Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
We get this question from time to time, and perhaps many of you, Primal Blueprint fans, do as well. Sometimes it comes as earnest curiosity, other times as a skeptic’s challenge. Either way, we think it’s an inquiry worth delving into. Care to join us?
First off, one note of reality/clarification. Sometimes we hear the criticism that the Primal Blueprint means eating obnoxious amounts of protein. This really isn’t so. In fact, in the scheme of diets out there, the Primal Blueprint doesn’t really qualify as a high protein diet. We usually recommend between 0.7 and 1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean mass. For the average person (i.e. not competing in the body building realm), this really isn’t that much. Check out Mark’s daily diet breakdown and our “How to Eat Enough Protein” posts for a brush up with more info and cool graphs.
But back to the common criticism… Paleo critics often argue that Grok and his clan would’ve never eaten as much meat as the paleo diet recommends – usually, they add, because they never could have caught that much. (Grok takes offense at their low estimation of his hunting talents, by the way.) We’ll give the critics this: it’s true that the evidence suggests variation among the eating habits of both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers. Some groups, typically those closer to the equator, consume more plants and less protein. Others, typically those at higher latitudes, consume fewer plants and more animals. The reason behind this divergence is, of course, the availability of year-round plant sources for foraging (or lack thereof). The savannahs of Africa offer more consistent plant abundance than, say, the tundra of North America where you only get limited seasonal offerings. It’s little surprise that the diets of their respective hunter-gatherer peoples show it. Furthermore, estimating the protein intake of ancient groups is hardly an easy or exact endeavor. Nonetheless, here’s why we think Grok was a meat lover.
First, we can examine the evidence surrounding the growing importance of meat during and for human evolution. Plant-based foods were, as we said, only seasonally available in many regions. Some scientists speculate that developed reliance on animal-based energy sources allowed humans to migrate into these areas that offered only limited and seasonal plant food sources. These migrations, particularly those far northward, would have meant significant reliance on animal fat and protein in dietary breakdown.
Likewise, researchers have the ability to compare what is known about human evolution and dietary shifts with physiological patterns seen in other primates today. From this kind of analysis, researchers have determined early humans’ development of “meat-adaptive” genes that helped humans uniquely process the natural fat and (in those days) inevitable parasites in meat, an ability that isn’t found to the same degree in other related primates. Once humans began consuming meat as a central diet staple some 2 ½ million years ago, the species experienced a surge in life span and competitive benefits in the fight for survival.
But as for the amount of meat, what is the significance of animal sources in Grok’s diet? Research of ancient and existing hunter-gatherer societies offers some expansive and telling contexts. Analysis suggests (PDF) that prehistoric hunter-gatherer groups, allowing for regional variation, generally received around 50% of their nutrition from animal sources (both protein and fat from land game and fish). Modern hunter-gatherer societies obtain 56-65% of their nutritional intake from fish and hunted game.
Other analyses reveal similar results. An often referenced study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates hunter-gatherer animal food sources constituting between 45-65% of their total energy intake. The researchers point out that previous research had only taken into account the muscle tissue of game animals as nutrition source, whereas most hunting societies typically used the full potential of the “edible carcass,” which included organ meats, fat, and even bone marrow. (No use wastin’ good eatin’!) Their efficiency meant a higher nutritional gain per hunt than researchers estimated in the past. The researchers also believe that tribal societies likely relied more on large game hunt than others have previously suggested. The added fat in larger animals, they say, would have offered a better energy gain (eating) versus energy expender (hunting) opportunity. All that sprinting about had to be worth it, and a mammoth just offered more bang for the buck than a jack rabbit. Grok was no simpleton, mind you.
Finally, what’s pretty certain is the inherent variability of Grok’s daily diet. When it came to meat in those good old, primal days, it was likely feast or famine when it came to game flesh. Without the benefits of a deep freezer or even simple ice house, meat could go bad quickly. (Of course, this presents one of the benefits of living in the brutal tundra.) Grok and his entourage chowed down the day of the hunt, likely gorging themselves because they knew it behooved them to do so. (A large hunt wasn’t the stuff of every day.) In more recent pre-agricultural times (and in many remaining hunter-gatherer groups) the following days would involve the laborious work of drying meat for longer term use. In between larger hunts, it’s likely that the group used the dried meat as well as smaller game for daily subsistence.
Because Grok’s daily diet was varied, so too is the PB plan. Enter the concept of Intermittent Fasting. Though fasting may conjure associations of new age, the PB includes it (intermittent style) precisely because it’s reflective of the primal age. Likewise, we put less emphasis on day to day caloric breakdowns – and schedules – than we do on long term dietary patterns (i.e. how much protein you tend to eat in a given week or two week period). Check out our Context of Calories post for more on the concept.
What’s clear from the research is this: protein (along with animal fat) was a much more significant part of hunter-gatherer diets than it is in today’s dietary recommendations. The human body evolved to allow for and strategically use (and release when necessary) additional protein intake. Sure, our dear Grok may not have had the benefits of readily available, packaged meats at all hours of every day like we do; however, is it unreasonable to consider the possibility that modern day availability of meat offers us the most ideal (physiologically speaking) opportunity? With some key gestures toward ancient eating patterns (e.g. IF), perhaps we have the chance to eat enough quality meat consistently enough to achieve truly optimal functioning, a state Grok would’ve tipped his hat to. (Well, if he’d had one, we suppose.) Hmmm. Interesting idea. (Sometimes we tend to get so down on modern living and all….)
So, heard or considered this question before? What are your thoughts on how Grok had it and what we can glean from his Primal model?