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

What Happens to Your Body When… You Carb Binge?

Carb BingeAnother day, another co-worker’s birthday (and the obligatory cake in the break room). Elaine Benes was right: this is insanity.

You’re into the Primal style of eating, so it’s easy to resist this stuff, right? You ignored the dirty looks when you turned down that piece of fudge-smothered bundt cake offered by your boss’s wife at their employee open house. You don’t mind gnawing on the few anemic carrot sticks left at the annual holiday party. Dessert just isn’t part of your vocabulary.

But would it hurt to indulge this once? This guy’s birthday? Well, you like him well enough, and the cake is a lemon cream after all. And it’s the end of the work day. Seriously, it’s not like you’ll suddenly burst into flame and melt in a fiery, torturous death, leaving nothing but a smoldering spot on the carpet. You’re disciplined. You can more than make up for this later. The worst that can happen is a sugar rush, and you spent half your time at summer camp walking (well, running) around in that state. Those were good times. Oh what the heck, gimme a slice. Yeah, sure, a little ice cream too.

So, what will happen? To your body, we mean. Once the plastic fork (with its spongy contents) hits your mouth. What goes on in there anyway? And why are you suddenly thinking of Willy Wonka and that kid who gets sucked down the garbage chute?

First off, the good news. There’s no purple suited man to pull an ominous lever. Nor is there any other permanent fate awaiting you. You’ll leave work a live, generally functional human being. They’ll be no curse or pox on your house or even truly long-term risk elevation for that matter. Nonetheless, you’ll likely regret your decision.

Within a matter of 10 quick forkfuls, you’ve gone from small doses of quality carbs wisely spread throughout the day to possibly 100 or more grams of pure sugar in one sitting. O.K., some guilt is setting in…. But that’s not all that’s happening.

The Domino Effect

Domino Effect

Within a few minutes, your pancreas kicks into overdrive and sends out a flood of insulin to try to sop up all the excess glucose that’s suddenly rushing through your bloodstream. Remember, while glucose is muscle fuel when it’s in the muscles, it’s toxic sludge when it stays in your bloodstream. Your body knows that and does everything it can to get it out of there. Perhaps you’re feeling flushed, a little high, spastic, or nauseous depending on how much you ate, how big you are, what your normal carb load is, and how acutely you tend to “feel” the effects of sugar and other substances. Ironically, if you were insulin resistant, you might not even notice these sensations, but you’re not. You’re a clean-fuel-burning primal specimen.

And it continues. The gush of insulin now creates a see-saw effect. If your glycogen stores have room, some of the sugar goes into muscles. If there’s no more room, the excess goes into fat cells, where it is stored as fat. In reaction to this quasi-emergency that looks like another life-threatening stress, the body steps up its efforts to achieve homeostasis by releasing both epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol from your adrenals. Your heart is racing, and you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, maybe even sweating. And we’re still likely within the first hour after you finished off that cake!

A bit more time passes. Burnout settling in yet? That’s called a sugar crash – when all the glucose is gone from the bloodstream and you start to feel sluggish, off-kilter, like the internal circuits are all fried after sparking in a heap of now smoldering wires. Hmm. Maybe that spontaneous combustion image wasn’t so far after all.

But there’s more…. The havoc that sugar rush set off – the swing of glucose and insulin, the cortisol and adrenaline – they’ve sent your immune system into a tailspin. Research has shown that the function of immunity-related phagocytes is impaired for at least five hours after intake of simple sugars. Free radicals have their heyday as well within the first few hours after sugar increases oxidative stress on the body. Your blood even thickens as a response to the stressors.

Wait, you aren’t out of the woods yet. You get home and try to sleep it off, but you toss and turn as your heart continues to beat faster than normal. Hmm. Little surprise there. The old hormonal system is confounding in its interconnectedness. You lay there cursing not just that cake but the entire cultural custom of birthday celebration. As the sun comes up and you roll out of bed, you think you should be done with this sugar business by now. Maybe. Maybe not. Unfortunately, a hefty dose of sugar can compromise the immune system for more than 24 hours. Groan. The images flash before you. The flu your daughter brought home earlier this week. The miserable cold (that incessant cough!) your boss has. Passing plans or reports around the meeting room. Shaking hands with the new clients who came by yesterday. Your toddler’s insistence on drinking from your cup last night. Suddenly you’re seeing your week in a new (and dimmer) light. Your immune system might have handled it all quite easily before the sugar incidence/insult. That’s one birthday cake that keeps on giving!

As bad as this sounds, it could be worse. If you follow the Primal Blueprint regularly and the lemon cream was just a detour, you’re a generally healthy person. You’ll experience the effects, and you may feel them more acutely than you did before you chose the low-carb path. (This isn’t a bad thing.) Nonetheless, after the dust settles, the worst thing you can end up with is maybe a cold you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Your system will realign itself pretty readily. Within a couple of PB style days you’ll be as good as new.

But if this is a normal day? Sigh. This presents a much bleaker picture. That see-saw of insulin and glucose? The process breaks down in your body until you develop insulin resistance. That rush of adrenaline and cortisol? That hormonal havoc over time fries your adrenal system. Your body is constantly in a state of “fight,” and inflammation becomes a constant state of affairs. Enough sugar over enough time (with the lack of exercise to boot), and you’ve gotten yourself into quite a pickle. (Maybe a pickle would’ve been a better snack choice….)

The Primal Blueprint offers up a plan to help guide our everyday choices as well as information to help us weigh the compromises we choose to make along the way. How we take care of ourselves each and every day can ameliorate the more taxing damage from occasional concessions we make for personal and social reasons.

And so we conclude the Willy Wonka journey.

Willy Wonka

What are your thoughts on sugar shock? PB compromise? Questions? Stories to share?

I Like, Fanboy30, Paradox Blue Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

On the Question of Sweeteners

The Salt/Blood Pressure Debate

Diabetes is Now a Disorder of the Small Intestine?

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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. Excellent post, one again.

    I had an In-N-Out burger and fries when I was in LA last month, and your description of what happens is exactly what I experienced. I thought I was going to throw up.

    “Perhaps you’re feeling flushed, a little high, spastic, or nauseous depending on how much you ate, how big you are, what your normal carb load is, and how acutely you tend to “feel” the effects of sugar and other substances.”

    SuperMike wrote on June 11th, 2008
    • FYI, In and Out has a “protein style” burger that’s wrapped in lettuce. They do a great job of it and it’s not unweildy at all. It’s wonderful! (Not totally primal, I know Mark does not approve of grain fed, commercially ground beef –but it’s a great junk food fix)

      pmpncali wrote on March 4th, 2011
    • So I’m at my bf house I had a tea n didn’t kno it contain coffee here I am 2am n have a sugar craven n my bf has a hole basket full of goodies 4 airheads n 6 jolly ranchers latr I find my self on the verge to grab my keys n go to the er lol never again will I over do it on the sugar:/

      bebe wrote on July 12th, 2012
      • Basically, all tea has caffeine in it, as long as they’re actually tea (black or green) cause it’s the name of the plant.

        A herbal “tea” without actual tea leaves (and so probably no caffeine) should technically be called a “herbal infusion”.

        kaerl wrote on September 14th, 2012
        • The french got it right, they’re word for a herbal tea is a Tisane (same in english).
          I found this out the hard way: asking for a Chamomile Tea in Paris.. Waitress politely informed me that Chamomile is not a tea but a Tisane/Infusion… 😉
          Makes sense!

          Damian G wrote on October 29th, 2012
  2. I hardly ever eat sugar, but at weak moments I do succumb to other carbs. I generally stay away from bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc., but when I eat them, particularly in abundance (sometimes the basket of crusty hot bread at a good restaurant is just too much to take!), for days afterwards I feel bloated, depressed (and I don’t mean “darnit, I shouldn’t have eaten that” depressed; I mean I actually feel actutely depressed), extremely lethargic, and generally awful. It’s really an amazing reaction, and one that truly happens every time I eat starchy carbs.

    I just realized: that hot crusty bread, much as I love it, is actually NOT worth it!

    anonymous wrote on June 11th, 2008
    • Wow. What a jackleg response.

      Kate wrote on September 23rd, 2011
      • No, he’s right. I mean give me a break. Your body has feedback systems that can handle that. Whatever.

        Joe wrote on November 4th, 2011
    • I think days of depression is serious. I tend to have a couple days of crying fits, anxiety attacks and mood swings when I eat high carbs. the poster isn’t referring to remorse but to a physical reaction to the stress of the carbs in his/her system. slapping them isn’t a valid response.

      Kitty wrote on October 19th, 2011
    • i know this reply is years late, but i feel the EXACTE same way as you. When i binge on carbs, bread mostly, i get very depressed and sooo tired/drained and it lasts for days after. I have to agree! It def is NOT worth it.

      rachel wrote on March 18th, 2012
    • You might be gluten-sensitive — this exact same thing happens to me the moment I eat any gluten. My entire body begins to feel depressed — muscle fatigue, sluggishness, even emotional depression.

      Ella McJ wrote on September 2nd, 2012
    • I had a bit of n over indulgence on carbs this weeknd. And I slept 11 hrs too nights in a row afterwards and still haven’t been to the toilet :/ I have celiacs and I don’t know if I possibly had some grains too, I wonder if the tiredness has a connection to the carbs….

      Hannah wrote on September 16th, 2012
    • I don’t understand this. I recently discovered this site, and at first the PB idea is intriguing. However, I am in good physical shape and am health conscious, but some on here I would say seem obsessive. Because I am in good health, if I eat a piece of cake, it does not undo me, physically or mentally. Why then, unless you are glucose sensitive, are these health and fitness extremists letting a piece of cake, or bread, or a roll, cause them a mental breakdown? If I you are generally health conscious, can’t you handle a piece of cake without becoming undone? I didn’t think it was this serious for those of us that are healthy. It seems this response is bordering on mental instability.

      Gabbi wrote on March 5th, 2014
      • Gabby, perhaps I can help you understand what’s going on. Your question is a good one, so maybe this will help. What people are describing here is not some sort of mental freaking out like, “Oh my gosh, what have I done to my body?” Its a real life, honest to goodness physical reaction the body has to the carb and sugar overload or rush — especially if they have been off wheat and grains and most sugars for a while, like the article suggests.

        For a real life example, let me share something that happened to me. A while back I decided to get off of wheat and grains. All of them. Completely. 3 or 4 months later, I was out on a date with my wife and she had an ice cream. I took one bite. In five minutes my head was foggy and I felt the affects of that bite for a couple of hours. One bite. Imagine if I had eaten the whole thing.

        The body is an amazing thing and everyone’s reacts differently. Before I got off sugar and wheat I ate sandwiches all the time. An ice cream like this would not have affected me much (comparatively) but now it’s a coma-inducing and it’s a CRAZY feeling.

        Hope that helps.

        Kirk wrote on June 3rd, 2014
      • I don’t think it’s psychological. When I regularly ate gluten-containing foods, I think my immune system was so chronically exhausted from it that it could only muster the most feeble defense, a little bit of chronic bloating and asthma that would gradually kick in about 12-18 hours later. But when I stopped eating gluten entirely for awhile apparently my immune system had time to reboot and rest.

        The next time I ate even a little gluten, I didn’t feel bad about it, so what it was just a little and just that once I thought. But holy crap I woke up feeling like the 15th regiment had showed up and pounded me senseless in the night! Seriously I’ve had full blown illnesses that didn’t make me feel as bad. I couldn’t believe it.

        On the bright side I guess that means my immune system was far more powerful (in better shape) at that point, since I’d quit kicking it so constantly. On the down side, it meant eating a tortilla made me feel like death warmed over, it was just mind boggling how bad I felt.

        I don’t think most people have this, I think people who have leaky gut and intolerance to certain proteins have it — it’s just that, it turns out, that’s a lot of people. If you don’t have those two situations in place, probably even if you didn’t eat anything like that for a year and then suddenly did, you’d be just fine.

        PJ (RightNOW) wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • That’s what happens to me too! I thought I was crazy but am glad (not for the distress but) to hear its a ‘real thing’ for other people. Its about 3 days before I feel ‘normal again’.

      sarah wrote on April 4th, 2015
  3. The timing of this post is amazing. If you check my blog, you’ll read how I crashed and burned this weekend. The culprit? Birthday cake. I knew the mental disappointment of “falling off the wagon” was going to come, but I was surprised how physically crappy I felt an hour later.

    Dave C. - DaveGetsFit wrote on June 11th, 2008
  4. Succumbed to birthday cake (only a half slice) this past weekend after eating clean for about a month. After about 2-3 hours, I felt nauseas and couldn’t fall asleep. To top it off, I had to get up twice during the night in order to use the facilities, heh. It was pretty amazing what a number that cake did on my body. Worst part is, the cake didn’t even taste that great! Lesson learned :)

    Maria wrote on June 11th, 2008
  5. I’m curious… how does the picture/cycle change if you are insulin resistant?

    Beck wrote on June 11th, 2008
    • To find the answer to your question just do a search on the site (or anywhere on the web) for Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and obesity.

      David Cole wrote on February 16th, 2012
  6. hey, mark…this post is awesome, but I have a question. What about honey? does it have these effects on your body? I know when I was battling Candida Albicans it was a no-no, but now I find that a small spoonful with some cinnamon seems to be very good for calming my tortured tummy. I have a lot of food allergies and IBS as a result of the yeast, which is why eating primal is perfect for me!But honey seems to help. That’s about the only time I eat it though,so am I missing the sugar-rushed feeling because I already feel bad, or is honey complex enough not to do this?

    hedda wrote on June 11th, 2008
  7. hedda, I’ve also wondered about honey. It’s just as much sugar as another source, but raw honey is also naturally occurring instead of having to be processed to be that sweet. I’m curious to research whether there’s some protective factor in honey that makes it slightly better to ingest.

    As to cake, I will indulge now and then in very good desserts. I’ll even make them sometimes. But I eat little enough sugar that I instinctively don’t want to eat too much, and feel pretty bad when I do eat it. It’s a nice now-and-then part of life, and one for which I accept the consequences of occasional eating. But even though I’ve never been much of a sugar-eater, it’s getting even less frequent.

    Food Is Love

    Huckleberry wrote on June 11th, 2008
    • Mark did a whole post on honey just a couple weeks back. Check it out. Basically raw wildflower or buckwheat honey has lots of good properties and it does breakdown slower then table sugar so it is certainly much better than table sugar. It’s fine once in a while but just don’t turn yourself into a pooh bear. Again check out the post as it was pretty detailed.

      David Cole wrote on February 16th, 2012
  8. Sugar is an immune system killer over a period of time!

    Donna wrote on June 11th, 2008
  9. Hi Mark (and Worker Bee),

    I have really enjoyed this post as well as your recent overview of the Primal Blueprint. I look forward to your book!

    I have a question to ask. What exactly is considered a Carb Binge? Is it possible to set some sort of concrete ballpark figure like ‘100gms or more of simple sugar at a sitting is a considered a binge’?

    Also, I have been implementing your recommendation to me of cutting out simple sugars, eating fewer fruits (and even then I stick to berries by-and-large), doing sprint intervals, and lifting heavier weights using more compound motions (I don’t have easy access to a gym anymore, but I have a pull-up bar and other props and I do the best I can to lift my own bodyweight in different ways. My workouts are modelled on the crossfit style, their site is pretty amazing!). This was toward getting a more defined musculature. It has been two weeks now, and there has been no discernible difference. But I will keep you posted on it though.

    However, I occasionally (like a couple of times in these two weeks) find myself succumbing to the temptation of a bite or three of hot bread at restaurant. How badly will this sort of thing undermine my above mentioned regime? The truth is that mustering the discipline to cut out this indulgence is an effort which a part of me simply does not want to make! But if it is really detrimental, then I am willing to buckle down and tighten up on this front.

    Thanks once more for all the wonderful information that you share with us.


    Apurva Mehta wrote on June 11th, 2008
  10. Hedda and Apurva,

    A little honey or bread here and there won’t derail you. Both become glucose very quickly, so it’s the amount that counts. What constitutes a “carb binge”? Depends. It might be 100 grams for one person and only 40 for another (think: can of Coke).

    Beck, the picture for an insulin-resistant person is that they don’t notice the jitters, sweats, nausea or dizziness as much, since they are “used to it” all the time. It’s more dangerous because the sugar lingers longer in the bloodstream (or becomes fat more easily)…but it’s not as noticeable to them as to someone who has been eating clean for a while.

    Mark Sisson wrote on June 11th, 2008
  11. Very good description of sugar shock. Sugar hang over is not fun.
    I literally control the amount of cortisol that my body uses. Low cortisol symptoms set in quickly when I’ve eaten something that is causing stress on my body–and I have to stress dose. I can tell you that sugar/grain causes my body a lot of stress. It just isn’t worth it.

    Crystal wrote on June 11th, 2008
  12. Eeesh! So I don’t think I’m insulin resistant…but I know I don’t experience the symptoms you menioned when I eat sweets like that. That’s bad! Suggestions? How do I fix this?

    Jennifer wrote on June 11th, 2008
  13. Thanks for the quick response Mark. I guess the simplest way is to avoid simple carbs altogether. Then one will not have to worry about questions like how much is too much, etc. :-)

    The simplest solutions always seem to stare us in the face, but I guess it takes a bit of courage to accept them. Hopefully this article and your response will give me the courage I need.


    Apurva Mehta wrote on June 11th, 2008
  14. Good article. I have felt better and look better since lowering the amount of carbohydrates. I have actually added some back into my diet because I was dragging.

    Mark – Art De Vany stresses not eating after working out. What do you think?

    For a different point of view — Check out this article on Running Times “The many proponents of diets like Atkins and South Beach would have the public believe that carbohydrates are some kind of poison. Don’t listen to them.”:

    Phillip wrote on June 11th, 2008
  15. Great post!

    Slightly humorous, yet informative. I definitely feel the effects when I indulge in a lot of sweets.

    This is related to my blog post today. I give 11 strategies for not letting the frequent sweets at the office ruin your healthy diet. Also slightly humorous, but informative.


    Jennifer Thornberry wrote on June 11th, 2008
  16. Ah it’s like you guys are psychic. I’m sidelined this week due to *ahem* excessive exercise (I know, I know, you totally called that one). My thyroid is depressed and so I’m on “active rest” for a while. Anyhow… I decided that now that I’m not doing the crazy cardio every day, it will be a good time to really kick my sugar habit. I did find that today – no exercise – I had very few cravings. And I felt more stable over all. No afternoon crash.

    I don’t know that I can give up fruit though.

    Thanks for the post! It’s just the kick in the pants I needed.

    charlotte wrote on June 11th, 2008
  17. hi mark, great article. question. wouldn’t eating some kind of high quality protein and/or fat (almonds perhaps) offset the effects of the sugar to a certain degree?

    Justin wrote on June 12th, 2008
  18. Great post. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on Cyclic Ketogenic Diets, wherein one stays in ketosis for 4-5 days (and then “carb loads” for 2 days).

    This approach was developed by Lyle McDonald in “The Ultimate Diet 2.0” and I should note that it applies to bodybuilders and athletes *only*. The idea is that the glycogen depletion of weight training will send the sugar–>glycogen into muscles, sparing you the nasty effects of the carb crash, provided carbs are ingested at the right time and in the right amounts. I have noticed that post-workout is the only time I’m able to tolerate carbs well, so I usually place my “cheat” meals here, on the rare occasions I have them.

    It’s not intended to be a permanent diet, but a cycle one can go on for several weeks to break a plateau of weight loss or muscle gain. In theory, this could be accomplished with starchy/sugary paleo foods such as as bananas, pumpkin, squash, and even gluten-free grains such as quinoa. Banana starch will convert mostly to sucrose, IIRC, which will go straight to muscles rather than being processed by the liver like fructose, which makes it one of the few viable fruits for this approach.

    The proposed carb load (1000g+) makes me shudder just thinking about it, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Keenan wrote on June 12th, 2008
  19. My question is kinda the same as Justin’s. Sometimes you can’t avoid the slice of cake, so what can you do to mitigate the effects? Eat a handful of almonds? Would a couple of laps around the block flush the glucose?

    Lex wrote on June 12th, 2008
    • All I know is that adding FAT to CARBS is a recipe for disaster and weight gain. Carbs should be rarely, if at all, eaten and should be isolated from fat. Read “Primal Body – Primal Mind” by Nora Gedgaudas.

      Rachel wrote on January 2nd, 2010
  20. Keenan – The CKD actually goes back to Body Opus….and it’s not pleasant to go through. Unless you have really good insulin sensitivity, you would be better off with smaller carb timing pwo instead of a carb bomb over the weekend (which just may pack back on fat).

    Mike OD - IF Life wrote on June 12th, 2008
  21. Mike,

    Yes, you’re absolutely right about it going back further than McDonald. I agree with the super-carb load being a bad idea. I think there is some value in being a little less strict on the weekends, say, having a couple of beers with friends.

    The CKD really seems to be a planned, more extreme version of the variation and feast and famine stressed by Art DeVany and others, including the IF protocol.

    Thanks for the feedback, and you should know that I frequent your site, too, and always look forward to your posts. Keep ’em coming!

    Keenan wrote on June 12th, 2008
  22. Phillip,

    I’m OK with not eating after a workout for the very reasons cited by the RT article you reference! Controlling certain gene expression pathways. But you can’t do that and run long every day. If you’ve hung out here a while you know that I do not recommend long distance running as a way to achieve health or longevity. If you DO decide to run, more power to you, but you need to appreciate the costs…including a near necessity to increase carb intake. OTOH, if you limit all your workouts to under an hour, you can not only survive, but thrive on a low carb program. So I choose not to exceed long workouts (unless I am hiking like I am right now in Aspen) unless those workouts are very low level aerobic. Remember: humans can live without carbohydrates (the body makes 200 grams a day from fat and protein).

    Justin and Lex,

    Adding protein to a high carb meal might lower the GI, but doesn’t change the overall glycemic load, so the effect might be spread out over more time…but still less desirable. You could try to go for a jog right afterwards to burn the glucose, but most people who just ate cake or any high carb meal find themselves too lethargic to rally. Like we said, it won’t kill you once, but as a lifestyle it will.


    Like Mike OD says, it’s probably better to tailor carb intake to workouts. Remember that Lyle et al are talking to a BB audience about increasing mass while we here are talking about staying lean all the time, balanced strength, power-to-weight ratios, and longevity. As with the runner’s carb-loading, it’s an unnatural process designed to allow you to perform an unnatural feat (volumize muscle which will be expensive to maintain). That’s OK when you are competing, as long as you recognize the compromises. If you are not competing, I ask only one question: what is your goal? Even if it’s to be “huge” and not compete, MDA would not be a good source of info. (I know in your case it’s not to be huge, but to be healthy, lean, ripped, energetic, etc). I see no good to come from a 600-1000 gram bomb. I do see some benefit to an occasional 250-400 gram “upregulation” day with yams, sweet spuds, etc.

    Mark Sisson wrote on June 12th, 2008
  23. Mark,

    Thanks for the info. Of course, you know my goals, and your last answer was exactly what I was looking for: “I see no good to come from a 600-1000 gram bomb. I do see some benefit to an occasional 250-400 gram “upregulation” day with yams, sweet spuds, etc”. I agree completely.

    I have no interest in loading myself up with 1000g of carbs. I don’t even know where I would *find* 1000g of carbs! I was asking because the CKD is essentially a low-carb diet with planned binges, so the outcomes should be similar. Bodybuilders are always getting sick, so I’m not particularly surprised to see that, though over training and other issues probably contribute as well.

    I definitely agree and think that the effect of a smaller, varying amount of “paleo carbs” from time to time (randomness!) would be much more healthful.

    Thanks Mark!

    Keenan wrote on June 12th, 2008
  24. OMG, I cannot believe what you just described about sugar crashes! I’ve been extremely hormonal this week, did not go to excercise class one time this and ate like crap most days but have been on “clean” eating for many months now. I cannot believe how nasty I feel now, and to top it off I feel like I have that cold/sinus starting;( I’m amazed at how food effects us.

    Janice wrote on June 19th, 2008
  25. I was just thinking about this. I’ve been trying to lead an EF lifestyle for the past 5 months or so and have seen incredible results. But I still have the mentality that I should reward my successes with some of the food I used to eat. You can’t really get a decent burger here in Japan, but you can get all the wonderful starchy rice and imported chocolate you want. So on Saturday or Sunday I’ll binge on sushi and top it off with a chocolate bar (or two, yikes).

    It’s funny when I think about it. Sushi is considered to be a healthy food. But from reading about the paleo diet and EF, I understand why it isn’t. After last weekend’s binge I asked myself, “Do you feel good? Was it worth it? Has this ever made you feel good afterward?” The answer of course is “no.” I’ll try hard to remember that feeling this weekend, and think of some other way to reward myself.

    Evan wrote on June 24th, 2008
    • LOL Evan,
      That’s exactly right. I don’t even feel that great afterwards!

      I will try and remember this each time I decide to “reward” myself. Isnt it just silly that somehow we learnt that food should be a “reward”?

      Carla wrote on July 19th, 2010
      • This is an aggressively marketed phenomenon. There are a lot of share holders who benefit mightily from people seeing food as a reward, a friend, a way to share love with others… etc. I’m not saying advertising is the only reason people do these things in food but I know for a fact that they actively work to imprint these notions. (five minutes of children’s TV in the US is enough to see it)

        Tim wrote on April 28th, 2011
  26. I really love this website!
    However, I can´t avoid to feel that this last article by Mark Sisson was very much an exagerration of how we respond to eating something as common as a piece of cake..
    I´m a pro triathlete and I guess that a lot of readers of this site are also highly actice; daily or even twice daily. For all of us that work out a lot have an almost constant deficit of muscle glycogen and we could in fact, in my view and experience, almost benefit from an occasional “treat” like candy, a coke or some birthday cake.
    I eat very very healthy (I even wrote a cookbook!)and in pretty good accordance to the Primal Blueprint; i e tons if good fats, lots of meats and fish and very few grains.
    So, I feel good almost all the time. And whenever I eat some sweets, breads, pastries or cake, I go from feeling good to feeling great (pleasurehormones..) and than back to feeling good, without any of these terrible “withdrawalsymptoms”.

    Jonas Colting wrote on July 1st, 2008
    • Yeah, and I tried to give myself a reward for my birthday after being vlc and carb free for over a month now, and when I ate that strawberry shortcake with cream frosting and cupcake party ice cream from krogers, and I only had about less than half an ounce of the cake like a bite and less than half a cup of the ice cream about a tbsp of the ice cream, I took 2 stacker 2’s and a green tea pill (3 diet pills) in total and became deathly ill after working out for four hours, I felt intoxicated and figure now A. ) No diet pills EVER, they make you feel yuck and B.) NO SUGAR ever thats literally the icing on the cake.

      ayrn wrote on February 27th, 2013
  27. Jonas,

    Good to hear from you. I see you are still “king of the ultras” (For the rest of you, Jonas is a top endurance athlete and winner of many long-distance events. We have been in touch often over the years.)

    As you might predict I would say, you are an unusual beast. Your daily energy demands are such that your muscles will gladly sop up any added sugars regardless of how simple or complex. And regardless of how adept at fat-burning you’ve become. It doesn’t surprise me that you are unfazed by a brief sugar surge.

    My readers here at MDA most likely assume that I am describing these binge effects on someone who doesn’t train more than 30 minutes or an hour a day and doesn’t get more than 100-150 grams of carbs on an average day. As you can see, many of them acknowledge the negative aspects of such an indulgence.

    At some point, I do need to address the specific requirements of a competitve athlete (vis a vis whether it’s even possible to stay “primal”), since I still get inundated with questions about the ideal diet for a 20-hour training week – and even though I am on record as believing such training to be counter-productive to good health. Jonas, maybe you could send me some thoughts on that.

    Thanks for writing. Keep up the good work.

    Mark Sisson wrote on July 1st, 2008
  28. Thanks for the reply Mark!

    I don´t know about “king of ultras”… I just happened to win Ultraman Worlds twice but I´m really more geared to half-IM´s and ITU Long Distance. I guess that´s still ultras in your book though…
    I´m 35 now and on my 18th year as a triathlete (12 as a pro) and going on 25 years of elite training (competetive swimming growing up)and I´m still actually still developing my top aerobic speed. I went 1.06.47 for the 20 k run when finishing 2nd at the ITU European Champs last year and I did an 8.20 IM as well.

    -On training; I usually work out between 2 and 5 hours per day with spikes of 8 hrs, running is my bread and butter and I run almost daily or even twice daily on trails and in the forest. I attribute my lack of injuries and sustained running performances to my runningprogram.
    I´ve never been a mile- or timemaniac training for the journal but rather striving for a purpose with all workouts. I avoid the “in-between-training” i e semi-long and semi-hard. I rather concentrate on doing two or three days back to back with over-distance but with a moderate speed and effort and than doing one or two days with hourlong workouts in every workout on aerobic threshold and race specific.
    I don´t do a lot of weights as I feel they stiffen me up and actually restrict my other training. What´s the use of a set of lunges if they make the legs so sore I can´t run my two hours in the forest the following day.
    I do follow a pprogram of functional or correctional strength very similar to Egosque with the purpose to align posture etc..
    Bottomline, I don´t feel strength is my limiter as an athlete. Since I do a lot of hilly forestrunning, powergears on the bike as well as a balanced swimprogram with paddles, sprints etc I feel I get the sportsspecific strength needed. Maybe when I hit 40:)

    -On fatburning and endurancetraining:
    I´m acutely aware that hard endurancetraining puts an enormous stress on the body and the demands of the carbintake.
    However; with a lot of the testing I´ve done in the laboratory suggest that for an absolute majority of my training I´m hitting very low RQ-numbers (RQ-respiratory quote; an indication of the fuel the body burns) and that I need to go pretty damn hard for my body to hit 1.0 and 100% carbo burning.
    Hence, I can get by on a modified primal diet with slightly more carbs to accomodate my output.
    Also, simple sugars during exercise, four or five hours in have a positive effect on me. I prefer to drink Coke to end my long rides and I can´t see any insulin respons at that time, rather a boost for the fatburning and a mental pick-me-up.
    I might add that I´ve run a 2.44 IM-marathon strictly on Coke feeling peachy all the way to the finish..
    I base a lot of my diet on veggies, fats, meats, fish, eggs and berries. I also eat a lot of quinoa. My post-run breakfast today was a bowl of quinoa with fresh strawberries, blueberries, almonds and soymilk.

    -On sugarrush
    Like I said in my last post; when eating cake, cookies or candy I go from good to great back to good. That´s the case if I eat my regular healthy meals and treat myself to these snacks in-between meals.
    I do feel sluggish, fat and bloated if I get out of sync and altering my normal diet and having a huge bowl of pasta for dinner or a lot of white bread and cereal for breakfast… I don´t crash but I feel bloated, and increasingly craving more bread. White flour is the real culprit for me…
    Also on cakes etc. Seeing American Supermarket cakes I can see they are pretty bad and often factory-made.
    When I eat cakes and pastries they are made in a bakery from real ingredients; butter, sugar, custard, eggs, flour, fruits, chocolate etc. Sure, bad stuff but far better that transfats and preservatives that are prevalent in anything made by a factory..

    -On triathlon and health
    The racing may be over-kill but the lifestyle is good if one can get over the obsessive-compulsive behavior that make up the psyche of most great athletes.
    I have a ot of friends in their 40´s and 50´s that train very consistent and compared to the general population they are far and away better off, on all levels of life. They seem to adhere to the similar philosophy as I do; take time off in the winter, crosstrain even beyond triathlon, don´t race to much, don´t stress, eat well and enjoy the lifestyle!
    Obviously we all know of examples where this endurancelifestyle has been counterproductive and led to ill health which goes to show that it´n not about choosing an end of either side of the stick but to find a healthy medium.
    In general though; overdoing will be far healthier than underdoing. No rest can heal the body from a passive lifestyle.

    -On food
    A lot of endurance athletes get stuck in what I call “gel-hell” That is failing to eat real foods and instead succumbing to a diet of bars, meal replacement products, sportsdrinks, gels or just eating breads and cereals and whatever is easy and/or fast.
    You do that for 200 days per year and I can see real healthproblems develop in 10 years. No matter the size or strength of the engine. Striving for fitness has overruled the need for health

    -On being Swedish
    You know, the Swedes invented carbo-loading! That´s why we still have world class xc-skiers who base their diets on bread, grain, cerals and carbs in general. That´s also the reason they have huge engines but still catch colds every month. Swedish skiers are famous for their frequent colds and I´ve talked a lot about the need for an athletes health to match their fitness but they are stuck in the 1960´s…

    Jonas Colting wrote on July 2nd, 2008
    • @Jonas and @Mark,

      This is exactly the kind of information I’ve been looking for! But like a junk food addict, now I want more 😉

      Hopefully I can repair enough damage from my long term pre-primal inflammatory junk carb diet to line up with King Colting at a Tri some day.

      You guys are my heros! The best of the best.

      Grok wrote on September 5th, 2009
  29. Jonas,

    I can relate to your stories because I went almost ten years having a half-gallon of ice-cream every night (and a loaf of bread and a bowl of cereal every day among other things). Because I was training and racing hard, I didn’t notice it outright affecting my performance. But I knew it was doing damage long term.

    I applaud your recognition that your carbs need to come mostly from healthier sources. That will, as you state, keep your immune system a little better tuned and reduce some of the AGEs that every endurance athlete experiences.

    I see that your training also tries to reflect some sanity in the amount of intensity and overall load. (and I know you take the World’s Highest Potency AntiOxidant formula ;-))But you are still doing way more than we were designed to do. I totally understand that when you are one of the fittest athletes on the planet, you can’t just stop simply because you fear for your long term health, so I’m glad you have chosen to take the most “Primal” approach possible under the circumstances. It gives me some food for thought when I respond to all those wannabe Primal athletes out there.

    Good luck with all the races this year.

    Mark Sisson wrote on July 2nd, 2008
  30. I wish more health blogs were like yours! Your blog is proof that one can provide facts, objectivity, and education without taking sides and without being obnoxious and ignorant toward fat people. Those who claim to be giving “touch love” have a pattern of never researching medical studies outside their own comfort zone. They pretend to be curious, but it is actually what they lack: curiosity.

    I am fat. My ears are wide open. I am interested in what my doctors and educated people like you have to say.

    Thank you for a beautifully written entry. I find your blog a must-read for those whom are health conscious – fat or not.

    Virgomonkey wrote on July 22nd, 2008
  31. It’s funny that you post this, because I feel absolutely no effect. Caffeine I feel, sugar/carbs I don’t (I’m fit, active and healthy – by no means a couch potato).

    My younger brother on the other hand does: Show him a slice of bread and he’ll fall asleep for an hour, it’s really quite amazing.

    Poor guy, can’t enjoy some quality cake…

    Locky wrote on January 8th, 2009

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