There are some who hold the view that at birth, each of us is allotted a finite supply of energy which exercise depletes, thus hastening our demise. An intense regimen like CrossFit, in this paradigm, would hasten a person’s demise.
That’s wrong, of course. Those who remain sedentary their entire lives often have short, miserable ones, while regular exercisers enjoy better health throughout their time on earth. Exercise has real potential to prolong life and compress morbidity. But it is a major stressor that, if applied incorrectly or excessively, can reduce health and overall wellness.
Here’s the good news for CrossFitters and anyone else engaged in similar combinations of aerobic, strength, and anaerobic training:
Sound familiar? Between all the deadlifts, the squats, the box jumps, the multi-modal development of fitness across multiple energy pathways, the muscle endurance, and the strength, CrossFit appears to support all the pro-longevity factors listed above.
But there are some things to watch out for that could derail your health and longevity—and going Primal can help.
Injuries are a fact of life. Anyone who pushes their body to the limits will eventually overstep them. That’s okay, but you can increase your body’s resistance to injury with a few Primal interventions. Namely:
The regular consumption of omega-3-rich seafood and reduction in omega-6-rich seed oil consumption, which improves inflammatory status.
The elimination of gut irritating-foods like gluten grains, which reduces gut inflammation and prevents excessive intestinal permeability.
The consumption of full-fat dairy, which provides vital calcium and anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
The promotion of barefoot living, which, provided you go slowly and gradually, increases foot strength, ankle stability, and proprioception.
The forays into ketosis, which increase anti-inflammatory ketone bodies.
Add these uniquely-Primal interventions to a CrossFitter’s rock-solid technique, ample mobility training, good sleep, and mind-body intuition and you’ll have a better shot at staying injury-free.
Any CrossFit athlete interested in living a long, healthy life should devote at least three or four weeks to getting fat-adapted. Going full-on ketogenic is the quickest way to do it, and easier and more congruent with your training schedule than you might think, but you can go basic low-carb, too. And you don’t have to stay there.
Hit the point where the low-carb/keto flu stops. Where you start feeling good (consistent energy throughout the day, no more headaches or irritability, no more carb cravings, steady appetite, lucid thoughts). That’s the signal that fat-burning mitochondria are ramping up.
Stay there for 2-3 more weeks. Really get settled, get those fat-burning systems established.
Then, try the cyclical low-carb approach I described in a previous post. High-carb on training days, lower-carb on rest days. That should be enough to maintain your fat-burning machinery while replenishing your glycogen for future endeavors.
All else being equal, it’s a good idea to burn as much fat as you can and as little glucose. Burn the glucose you’ve earned, of course. I’ve always said that. But don’t eat extra if you don’t have to. Insulin you don’t really need will only hurt longevity.
CrossFit is carb-intensive, as I’ve covered before and anyone who’s actually attended a box for more than a month can attest. So while you’re not going to go low-carb, go as low as you can while still maintaining your performance or hitting your performance goals. If you want to improve your performance, you’ll probably eat more. If you want to maintain, you’ll probably need less. But the point is that most of us are eating more than we need and can probably drop the carbs and, thus, the insulin, a bit without compromising our performance.
CrossFit compels a high protein intake. You come home from lugging around heavy iron and manipulating your own bodyweight and a large steak starts sounding very, very good for a very good reason: Your muscles require the protein it contains. But is excess protein a problem?
The link between protein and longevity is a tricky one. In short to medium-term studies, high protein intakes are great. They’re safe (as long as you don’t have pre-existing kidney trouble), they help people lose body fat and retain lean mass, they promote satiety and reduce hunger, and they improve body composition, especially if you’re lifting heavy things.
I’m not exactly sure where I come down on this. We don’t have any strong direct evidence that high protein intakes reduce longevity in humans. If anything, older folks need more protein to derive the same effects because they’re less efficient at processing it. Some research suggests higher meat intakes are linked to better longevity in the elderly.
That said, protein does elevate mTOR, a pathway that, if activated to excess or without respite, does reduce lifespan in animal models and may promote the growth of tumors. When mTOR is activated, autophagy—cellular cleanup of damage, necessary for health aging—shuts off. Yet mTOR also increases muscle protein synthesis. In short, it’s the “growth” pathway.
A nice middle ground is intermittent protein fasting. Every once in awhile, eat less meat than you normally would. Or fast outright. This allows you to take advantage of the benefits of mTOR (muscle building) while giving you the benefits of mTOR restriction (autophagy).
Overtraining is a constant concern for any elite athlete. CrossFit is particularly demanding.
You have your training schedule, and I’m not trying to change that. Adopting any of thePrimal lifestyle laws(andhonorablementions) will improve your resistance to stress of all kinds, make you more robust in the face of your demanding training schedule.
Lack of Collagen
Skinless chicken breasts, whey protein isolate, egg whites, and other similar foods are staples in many CrossFitters’ diets because they’re extremely high in protein. They’re also extremely high in methionine, an essential amino acid. The thing about methionine is that it increases our need for glycine, an inessential amino acid found in collagen.
The more methionine-rich meat we eat, the more glycine our bodies utilize. In rat studies, high methionine diets reduce lifespan. If you add glycine to the high-methionine diet, however, the rats live longer. For a CrossFitter slamming protein and lean chicken breasts, balancing the methionine with glycine could mean throwing in some oxtail stew, bone broth, and collagen powder. Pretty simple (and delicious).
Glycine may also impact your risk for various degenerative diseases often linked to “meat consumption.” In one study, controlling for glycine status abolished the link between red meat and diabetes. In another, low levels of glycine in the blood predicted the risk of diabetes. While it’s not as if the average CrossFitter is at risk for diabetes, this data is compelling evidence that muscle meat intake should be balanced with collagen intake for healthy longevity.
Performance and health are often cast as opposites. I reject that. I’m convinced that, using Primal principles, a CrossFitter can maintain and improve performance without sacrificing his or her short-term or long-term health.
What about you?
Thanks for reading today, everybody. Have a great end to your week.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.