There’s been a lot more talk in the mainstream recently about “caveman” diets and barefoot training. Primal/Paleo/Evo seems to be gaining in popularity and may be nearing the critical mass needed to garner mainstream appreciation. John Durant appeared on Stephen Colbert last week, Art De Vany was featured in Der Spiegel, Born to Run is a NYT Bestseller and my book recently made the top ten Health and Fitness titles on Amazon. Even so, we Primal types still get those occasional looks of derision or incomprehension when we show up at the gym with our Fives on and a bag of homemade jerky hanging off our belt to do a quick 15 minute HIIT session. I think there’s a sense among outsiders that the Grok fairy tale trumps the science within the Primal crowd – that the notion of living like a caveman is a cute ideal but irrelevant in a 21st century high-tech context. Of course, it’s not true; science always leads the way here at MDA and on most Primal/Paleo/Evo sites. But even with the science completely supporting the idea that we ought to emulate our hunter-gatherer ancestors in many aspects of life, I still hear things like, “I trust my doctor too much to give up the statins and start eating fats.” Or “I’m lazy, undisciplined, and I love good food too much to be able to change this late in my life.” Hey, me too! So for those of you who are looking for more detailed rationale why living Primal is best for everyone (including your doubting spouse and your parents), here are my 10 Real-Life Reasons Why the Primal Blueprint Works for Me.
Ironically, I spent 25 years of my life pursuing high level fitness and peak health through hard work, discipline, sacrifice and misery. That didn’t work out for me. I’m over it. Now I just want the best results with the least amount of pain, suffering, and sacrifice. I jokingly tell my ex-triathlete buddies, “I’d rather look fit than be fit.” Of course, the irony is that when you actually do what it takes to look fit (eat right, cut the Chronic Cardio, sprint a bit now and then and lift intensely two or three times a week ) you become VERY fit. And healthy. And happy. And more productive. The best part of Primal Blueprint living is that you can get appreciably better results with significantly less time, less effort and less sacrifice. Instead of the old 20-30 hours a week I used to put in training, I now train less than three hours total a week. I try to play the rest of the time.
Some people mistakenly think the Primal Blueprint requires giving up eating good food. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I was a college endurance athlete, my buddies nicknamed me “Arnold,” after Arnold Ziffle, the pig on Green Acres. I could eat more than just about anyone in school (including the football linemen). I ate everything and enjoyed it all. But I became a slave to the carbs and to the hunger that they generated every three hours of my life. Later, when I retired and researched the damage I was doing eating grains, sugars, hydrogenated oils and all the other stuff I consumed to fuel my massive cardio efforts, I feared I might have to suffer a lifetime dearth of gustatory delights if I wanted to keep my boyish figure. Never happened. Primal eating reprograms the genes in a way that takes the edge off hunger, while assuring more-than-adequate energy and stable blood glucose levels. Now, I eat as much as I want, whenever I want from a list of fabulously tasty foods. I just avoid eating most things from that other list. Hunger doesn’t drive my life the way it used to. When I sit in a restaurant with a rare 20-ounce rib eye steak, a bowl of butter-sautéed mushrooms and a glass of fine Cabernet in front of me, I never feel sorry for myself that I didn’t order pasta or that I won’t be having the bread or potatoes or rice. And for dessert, if I’m still hungry, I’d really rather have another lamb chop or a bowl of berries than a slice of cardboard cake or mucous-inducing ice cream. Worst case, I can have a small taste of the latter and be satisfied.
I spent a fair amount of my life training for grueling endurance contests (marathons, Ironman triathlons, 24-hour relay running events). Only just recently did it occur to me that I NEVER really had fun while I was competing or while I was training. Admittedly, I could sometimes get into “the zone,” but that’s really only a temporary zone of less pain. I did appreciate the valiance of my efforts and certainly felt pride in my accomplishments, but from the time the gun went off until I crossed the finish line, I never once could truthfully say, “Isn’t this fun?” In contrast, today I plan most of my (minimal) training around being able to participate in fun activities later. And while I don’t necessarily see play as “workout time,” it is most assuredly contributing to my fitness. Primal Blueprint training gives me the functional strength and endurance to jump into an aggressive Ultimate Frisbee game, stand-up paddle and surf for two hours, take a 90-minute trail hike with sprints thrown in, play a round of golf, or snowboard for five days in a row. I stay fit so I can play at stuff I find FUN.
I used to feel guilty if I slept too much. As if I were missing out on something that might be taking place while the lights were still on somewhere. Now I get at least eight hours every night and embrace the idea that I am NOT wasting time, but am recharging the batteries and will probably live longer as a result. I think most people would prefer to get adequate sleep, but feel like it’s a sign of weakness that they “need” eight or nine hours. It’s not. Sleep is integral to health.
No one does. At the peak of my endurance career, I got colds and flus five to seven times a year. I also had severe seasonal grass pollen allergies. The nature of Chronic Cardio training (all that cortisol) and the obligate high carbohydrate diet (all that sugar) kept my immune system so trashed that anything that was going around was going to take me down with it. And stuff is always going around. The Primal Blueprint works because everything about it is contemplated to support or boost the immune system and not trash it. My allergies have long since disappeared. I rarely get any kind of cold or flu now and, if I do, it’s with no real down time and over quickly. Many people argue that this benefit alone is worth the switch to Primal.
The Primal Blueprint exercise laws are designed to sculpt a lean, muscled and balanced look without being overly “huge” or disproportional the way bodybuilders can get. It works perfectly for both men and women. I often say here that 80% of your body composition is determined by how you eat. The remaining 20% is a combination of genetics and exercise. If you dial the eating in properly, it doesn’t take very much exercise to optimize muscle size and strength, and to cut the last few percentage points in body fat. Notice I said optimize and not maximize. Think Calvin Klein underwear and SI Swimsuit models as opposed to swollen Muscle&Fitness or WWF cover models.
Sorry, I never understood the porcelain skin thing. I notice the dramatic effect a lack of sun has on my disposition as much as I notice it on my skin if I skip a few weeks (winter sucks – except for snowboarding). Getting adequate sunlight daily is an integral part of the PB as it has been for humans for millions of years. Vitamin D is critical to maintaining good health. As I say in my book, I honestly believe we’ve seen an increase in overall cancer incidence as a result of (ironically) heeding the advice of doctors to stay out of the sun. I think everyone would rather be outside for a while every day if they knew it was not only NOT harmful, but beneficial. A slight tan just looks good, and it’s indicative of a healthy Vitamin D status. Getting sun also improves mood and productivity as numerous studies continue to show.
If you saw my desk you’d probably cringe. Stuff all over it everywhere. Same goes with my training style these days, and I love it. I almost never train with anyone, because I like being able to head out the door on a whim and go sprint or hike or bang off a few hundred pushups. I hate having a set training schedule or the idea of having to meet someone at such and such a time to work out together. Don’t get me wrong, I do train with friends once in a while, but the Primal Blueprint training outline fits my fractal, sporadic, random, intermittent, flakey and spontaneous nature. If I don’t feel like training today, the PB says “take the day off – you’ll be stronger and more focused tomorrow.” Not to be outdone, the Primal Blueprint eating style is also unorganized. Not set meal times, no regimentation, no calorie-counting or portion control. Eat when you want and as much – or not – as you want. Of course, none of this is to say you HAVE to be disorganized to benefit from the PB. If you’re organized, it works that much better. But for those who eschew schedules, the PB is perfect.
Downtime from injury sucks. As I said earlier, I want to get more play time now as I get older. I recognize that my body doesn’t recover from workouts as easily as it used to. I also notice that I have to pay attention to potential soreness a bit more. PB fitness provides a set of guidelines and workout styles that foster balanced, functional strength. It actually focuses on injury prevention and avoidance, while building muscle and burning fat.
I’m a skeptic at heart (OK, I’m actually a cynic). I hate investing my precious time, money, energy or emotion in anything I don’t feel confident will yield dividends. It has to be based in science, rational thought and real results. Conversely, I hate thinking that some of my choices in exercise, diet and health may have been wrong (as they were so egregiously when I followed Conventional Wisdom). I need to have confidence that my choices are good ones. The research backing the PB is the most solid there is. Evolutionary biology and modern genetic – and epigenetic – science are proving that we have remarkable influence over how our genes express themselves throughout our lives. Stuff we do and things we eat turn genes on or off. It’s that simple. Intervals and Tabata work have been proven over and over to be more effective at increasing speed and stamina than Chronic Cardio. The dietary science of low-carb is nearly irrefutable now, as more and more researchers and docs begin to understand the true nature of insulin and they rethink the cholesterol hypothesis. Look, there is no right or wrong here. You can eat Twinkies and smoke cigarettes for the rest of your life and you still might reach 90 or 100. But I have never in my life been more certain of anything than I am that the Primal Blueprint way of eating, exercising and living is the optimal way to have the most energy, the most fun, look the best and live the longest. And I know I can do this for the rest of my life.
What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comment board and thanks for reading!
Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.