Stronger, Fitter, and Faster Than Ever Before

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!

real_life_stories_stories-1-2My diet success story is different than most. I didn’t start overweight or out of shape. I was merely bloated and exhausted. The Paleo diet improved every aspect of my health.

Working out was the religion of my youth starting at 14. Everyday I ran and lifted weights for an hour plus. It was a routine I would continue into my 40’s. I was convinced that intense exercise would keep me young forever.

Middle-age jumped me and took my lunch money. It came late, but it came. Around my 50th birthday, a stubborn rim of chub settled at my mid-section. I was a dozen pounds heavier than in my prime, and was in thirty-five waist jeans for the first time in my life. My blood pressure started flirting with higher numbers too: 140/85.

2008 49 years old tired all the timeI thought I was eating healthy. I had studied the Zone Diet, and ate precisely calculated meals—always balancing my blocks of fats, carbs and proteins. If I ate out at a fast food place, I always made sure that I doubled the meat on sandwiches (to get adequate protein) and passed on the soft drink and fries. But I was ignorant of real nutrition. I loved Chinese food, and ate rice several times a week along with tons of protein bars. As for alcohol, I reasoned that my intense workouts, coupled with a stressful job, entitled me to two beers every night before bed.

In 2011, at 51, I reached my highest weight… 184 pounds (on a 5 foot, 9 inch frame). At that time I was working out about an hour a day, (doing P90x and training for a half marathon). I was tired all the time, and frankly, looking quite bloated.

In 2012, I read The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. I liked the premise; eat like a caveman and fuel your body with lots of healthy, natural foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meats and nuts. Coconut oil and olive oil replaced vegetable oil for cooking. The diet recommended a carbohydrate load of 100-150 grams a day. According to Sisson, if we ate like our ancestors, our modern bodies would revert to our earlier, more robust models (like a computer rebooting). I decided to try a thirty day experiment. I tracked my results on Facebook.

I loaded up the fridge with fresh foods and went off of all processed foods for a month.

The result of the experiment convinced me that Mark Sisson was right. I dropped 15 pounds and felt more energetic. I have continued the diet since 2012. I also changed two other components of my life: exercise and rest. I exercised less. I slept more. The end results surprised me. My weight leveled out at 169 and I shrank to a 31” waist pants size for the first time since college. I also got stronger and faster. I can now match the speed of my 23 year old son in a fifty yard dash (he’s been faster than me since he was 14). My blood pressure dropped to 110/75.

before-after

Here is a typical example of a day on Paleo:

Breakfast: 3 boiled eggs, fruit
Snack: one half avocado
Lunch: giant salad with chicken
Snack: almonds
Dinner: bag of veggies stir fried in coconut oil with grilled meat

My typical grocery list:

  • Egg s- hormone free
  • Chicken breast – hormone free
  • London Broil
  • Raw Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Canned tuna – in water
  • Frozen veggies in microwaveable bags
  • Fresh celery
  • Fresh carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Mushrooms
  • Vinegar dressing
  • Cheese block
  • Butter
  • Texas Pete
  • Raw walnuts
  • Raw macadamias
  • Indian cooking sauce

From that list I can build many combinations of meal. My favorite recipe – Pressure Cooker Paleo Stew:

  • 2 pounds of chopped chicken breast
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (solid)
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 bag of Foodline frozen mixed peppers and onions 16 oz
  • 1 14 oz jar of Sherwood’s Indian cooking sauce (I like their Butter Chicken)
  • Salt, pepper and spice to taste (I like lots of red pepper)
  • 1 cup of water

Fast and easy.

Heat cooker on medium high, stir in coconut oil, chopped onions, and garlic. After onions are translucent, add the chicken and stir for about a minute. Season with salt, pepper and spices. Add bag of frozen peppers and onions, add jar of Indian cooking sauce, add 1 cup of water. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat once pressure lid is on and let simmer for 25 minutes. Makes 5 big servings of low carb, high protein Paleo stew.

It’s easier to list the things I don’t eat on the Paleo Diet. Here is a list of what I don’t consume: wheat, potatoes, rice, corn, sugar, alcohol, beans, peanuts or vegetable oil, or any kind of processed, pre-packaged food. I also don’t eat protein/meal bars, even if they call themselves “Paleo.”

Here is a list of the things I consume in moderation: dairy, cheese, and butter.

I eat when I’m hungry. No set schedule. I don’t measure portions. It’s hard to over eat fresh veggies like carrots, celery and spinach. The hardest food to give up was bread. After going a few days without bread, my taste buds became super sensitive, and when I ate bread again, it tasted like a candy bar! I found the best way to kill carb cravings is a handful of walnuts and/or almonds. (I try to eat more vegetables than fruit to keep my carbohydrates at about 100 a day.)

Packing for Paleo: Preparation is the key to success. I spend 15 minutes every night packing my food for the next day. The modern world is an alien wasteland of non-food. Every night, I sliced up tons of fruits and veggies and put them into sandwich baggies. I also pack bags of sliced, grilled meat, and nut mixes (macadamia and walnut is my favorite combo). For dinner, I keep bags of frozen veggies in the fridge (Pictsweet Steam’ables Spring Vegetables is one of my favorites). I eat a whole bag with a healthy sized chunk of meat that I’ve grilled over the weekend. Getting caught without a plan or prepared food is a recipe for failure. You will succumb to hunger and find yourself gulping down junk food.

The exercise component: I cut down my strength workouts to just 3 times a week. I also shortened the duration of the workout to 30 minutes. Intensity became the key. At least one workout would be a max effort. Pull ups, push ups, and sit ups until failure. The evolutionary theory behind the Paleo diet states that you should occasionally push yourself with short, extreme blast of maximum effort to replicate the harsh lifestyle of our ancient ancestors. A brief, life or death struggle stimulates the body to grow stronger, so that it can handle the challenge if it happens again.

I cut my aerobic training down to three times a week. I spiced runs up with at least 6 sprints and stations where I do push ups. I no longer run for times, and I never go more than 5 miles. On bad weather days, I hit the heavy bag for 30 minutes and watch episodes of my favorite sci-fi series, Smallville. The secret, for me, is to make the workouts fun. I checked my top speed for a single fast mile a few weeks ago: 6 ½ minutes. That’s fast for me; I haven’t been able to anything like that for decades. I can also do 20+ pull ups and 50+ push ups. That exceeds anything I could do when I was twenty.

Rest, in my opinion, is one of the least understood and underutilized fitness tools. I increased my sleep time to 7 ½ hours a day (up from 6), I’d like to get it to 8. I also added a 15 minute meditation session to my afternoon break. I found that drinking just two beers a night was ruining the quality of my sleep, so I switched to Sleepy Time Herbal Tea with valerian root. If you must consume beer (or wine, etc.), I suggest saving it for your free day.

Taking a day off from Paleo: In his book, The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson states that dieters should shoot for a 80% compliance rate, and not worry about an occasional indulgence…hence a free day. Saturday is my free day on the Paleo diet. It’s OK, have a bite of your Kryptonite. If I want apple pie, pizza, beer or whatever, Saturday is my day to go wild. Funny thing is, I seldom indulge that option anymore: the pizza tastes incredible, but after just a couple of slices, I can feel the sugar rush in my face, and my mind gets foggy. I really do prefer the potent mental alertness that the Paleo diet provides. That being said, a couple of Girl Scout cookies are not going to kill you.

Profile shot from newspaperI work at medium-sized daily newspaper in Virginia as an advertising account representative. My friends in the newsroom followed my primal lifestyle musings on Facebook and became intrigued. In June of this year I was invited to tell my story in the newspaper’s Healthy Living section. (Here is a link to that story.)

“Paleo it Forward” is my Facebook page where I share more personal experiments, and my philosophy: Sharing is the best way to spread the secret of a healthy body. Share information, share your stories, and when you can, cook somebody a delicious Paleo meal.

The primal lifestyle and workout protocol as presented in The Primal Blueprint, has worked for me: my body has reverted to a younger, more vital version, I am never hungry, nor am I frustrated by long, boring workouts. I eat as much real, healthy food as I wish and maintain a decent weight… and can do more pull ups at 56 then I could at 17! What more could a middle-aged caveman want?

Bobby

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69 thoughts on “Stronger, Fitter, and Faster Than Ever Before”

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  1. Great story and a great example of less is more! Peak out, then recover.

    Do you take any supplements?

  2. I loved your story and your last picture. It is so great you are now seen as an inspiration instead of a joke a the office. You are looking mighty fine at 56, much better than most of my 40 something peeps 🙂 Keep on Paleo on!

  3. Congratulations. Great story. Thanks also for the grocery list, recipe and great tips!

  4. Very good story of regaining a healthy, vigorous body…and mind, too, I’m sure. But lose the helmet with the horns. We now know that the original Viking never wore such things–helmets, yes; helmets with horns, no.

      1. Awesome testimony Bobby! You are looking great and full of life, horns or no horns. 🙂

  5. Thanks for your testimony and for including a typical weeks menu and shopping list.

  6. Your last photo is great! Thanks for sharing your story with us, and congrats on keeping pace with your kid in the 50! That’s impressive!!

    1. I didn’t have my kids until my 30’s. I might not get grand kids until my 70’s…I want to be ready and able to play

  7. Awesome story for us older paleos! Also love the simplicity of the food and exercise, it just makes life so much easier and you can make time to put more good things into your life. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Because I can’t go like a maniac everyday, when I do hard it is such a treat. Workout rationing. It’s like having an old sports car that you can still drag race with once in a while.

  8. I enjoyed your story and particularly loved your food lists and example meals. Always helpful in putting it all together for other who are just starting out. Good job!!

  9. A very inspiring story. What makes it the most interesting for me is that it parallels my story almost exactly!! The dates, the past and current lifestyle, and even down to the beginning and ending weight. Way to go Bobby!!! I know exactly how you feel!

  10. Oh i love the viking look! It is an old saying, but its one that you have implemented. “when you fail to plan….you plan to fail.” congrats!

  11. Good idea about chopping and storing in “serving sized” containers. I don’t eat raw veggies much but would love to cook some at work, however, I feel so busy making food for the rest of the family every day that when I get to me in the morning, well, no time…… So, Sunday night or Saturday will be my own prep time. Thanks for the encouragement for us “old people” here.

    1. I really think this way of life is the closest we’ll get to a fountain of youth. I love the fact that the week before Jack Lalanne passed away, he was still stronger than 95% of American teenagers (he was 96). What a way to live!

  12. I’m 61 and love getting inspirational stories from the younger crowd, ha, well done.

  13. Great story, Bobby! Really like how you share the specifics of your primal lifestyle–breaking it down into something folks can really “get”…and interspersing that with Primal Blueprint reasoning and guidelines. Well done!

  14. Those shoulder veins are sick! That’s direct evidence of hard work, keep it up!

  15. Love your story!! Another testament to the power of (real) food!!!

  16. “Preparation is the key to success”

    This really resonated with me. I would say that the thing I like the least about Primal eating is all the chop chop chopping of veggies. But it really pays off in the end because I am using whole foods, not processed foods, in my cooking.

    1. same here. that’s why i use a juice extractor. I drink the liquid and eat the contents of the the pulp container. I meticulously clean everything before juicing. Thus the pulp is clean, healthy, easy to digest, not much chewing needed!

    2. I don’t make time to prepare a lot of fresh veg (mainly because, alas, I don’t EAT veg; never have, and still — at age “60 in Jan” — recoil and gag at the taste; wanna bet my mother had a hard time with me as an infant?!) . However, I DO get organic green, orange, and yellow peppers (thank you Costco!), puree the heck out of them, and freeze them (an inch deep in) a silicone ‘loaf’ pan, then cut the resulting chunk into ‘fingers’ — so “seasoning” with ‘fresh’ peppers is always available. (On those rare occasions I have lettuce (only iceberg, {sigh} won’t eat any other); I thaw some of the pureed green pepper that I do-up separately and add it to my “salad” … my bowl of lonely lettuce.) I also use the green pepper in scrambled eggs, hamburger, and so on.

      I puree up a bunch of good onions and freeze the mush in a silicone ‘peanut butter cup’ sheet; store the frozen ‘chips’ in a jar, and always have “fresh” onion to throw into my Crockpot with the chicken carcass to make my broth, or to thaw and mix with my ground meat. I can’t keep these things fresh, cause they melt before I use them up. Freezing makes a useful option.

  17. You are my new idol. Great story. I hope at 56 I feel better than my younger self. I think I am adopting the tools to make it happen. Just like you.

    1. Be ready to share. People at work will ask you how to do it. It’s the best part

  18. Amazing! Paleo on…it is really nice to see you breaking down the food part, which can be overwhelming for some at the start. Great job

  19. Love the helmet, love the attitude and love how well written and detailed the story is especially how you discuss food issues and offer hints so everyone can see how really easy it all can be. This is now one of my favorite Friday success stories (I keep saying that every Friday – LOL – but right now you’re up there with the best of ’em).

    I have the same experience with the “free” day – I don’t enjoy it or look forward to it as I really can’t stand to eat some of these foods anymore – not only do they not taste good I don’t even crave them.

    I’m 71 years old and have an 8 year old Grandchild who is amazed at how well her ancient Grandma can keep up with her! Thank you for posting and remember: The best is yet to come—-

  20. “The modern world is an alien wasteland of non-food.”

    Love this line.

    Great story, impressive discipline, enviable results. This 52-year-old is inspired!

  21. Nice to see ideas on how to prepare food. 56 and ready to kick ass!

  22. Given that I am approaching middle age, this was important for me to read … I need to give the Paleo diet a chance soon!

  23. Hi,

    Newspaper story looks encrypted from here?

    Oh, well…. I guess it will remain a secret :). Glad MDA isn’t a secret!

    John

  24. Great motivation! I love the example menu and other tips. Also you look like Chuck Norris in the heavy bag photo. It was a fun read. I especially lile the analogy to an alien wasteland of non-food. So true! Congrats and thanks for sharing!

  25. Great story. Grok on! Glad that balance is working for you. I find that I enjoy a few great beers on the weekend a lot more than a few gallons of crappy beer.

    Life looks great for you. Enjoy!

  26. Great write up! Both informative and entertaining! I’m going on my second year of Paleo and I’m just a few years younger than you. As you said about yourself, I feel better than I have for most of my life even though I’ve always been very health conscious. Getting rid of those carbs and adding all those great vegetables, fruits and proteins has been an amazing ride. Thanks for the encouragement.

  27. Bobby!

    I read your journey on my 59th birthday, Saturday.
    THANK YOU!!!!

    The article was well written, detailed and articulate.
    The photos were great, especially the second set with you nailing the heavy bag.

    I too “found” Paleo on my 56th birthday. Actually, I guess better said it found me.
    And like yourself, I transformed myself into the best shape/condition of my life!!

    Now, three years later, on my 59th birthday, I find myself sliding backward to my “old self.” Adding weight, too many “cheat days”, and justifying my indulgences with the “one isn’t going to hurt anything” routine.

    Bobby, your message was an unintended birthday present to a total stranger, and I thank you for that!!

    It has rekindled that spark I had at 56, and provided me the motivation to return to my Paleo beginnings.

    All I can say, is thank you Bobby, and great work!

    Sincerely

    OD

    1. Thank you for the kind words. It’s fun rediscovering the best gift creation has given us…this incredible body.

  28. This sounds SO much like me! I, too, thought my exercise patterns would get me through everything! I ran and biked, and lifted weights. But when I turned 50, the game was up. I started slowly gaining more weight, I was tired all the time, and my mental clarity turned to mud.
    The change of diet – which was really the only big change the Primal lifestyle brought – made a big difference. Most of you details match up, except for one biggie. When I need more carbs, potatoes are up there near the top of my list. Fried in bacon fat when possible.
    Kep it up- you look great!

  29. Awesome! I like that you included your favorite recipe. Don’t you think that success stories should be encouraged to do that? When I finally get around to writing mine, my favorite pot roast recipe will be included. It’s super-delicious!

  30. Other than being a few years younger than you, your story sounds so similar to my own, I had to at least post and say “Grok on brother!”. You look amazing man, keep it up! 🙂

  31. Great and inspiring story!
    The only thing I would change is the tilapia fish. Garbage fish raised in garbage laden fish farms.

  32. Very helpful and inspiring post! Thanks for including so much useful information.

  33. Mate, you’re looking great. And 20 pull-ups – or was it 20+? That’s amazing, as you know. You’re my hero for today. And GSOH as they say (good sense of humour in case you don’t know that one), the viking hat and all. Good for you!

  34. Great read. Thanks for sharing. I’m going through a recent “Primal reset”. Originally lost 55 pounds in 5 months back in 2009. 46-year-old ex power-lifter, with a bad back injury in 2012. Weight is back up, but not drastically. Anyway, it’s always great to be reminded that we don’t have to go all out, all the time. I’m 3 weeks into my reset, and 12 pounds lighter. Wanting to pick up the weights again, but reading stories like these really helps to keep me focused. Body weight exercises are more than enough.

    1. What really has surprised me about body weight exercises is how they have retain… even grown my strength. I lifted very regularly until about 3 years ago, and then I did more pull ups and push ups. when I was 28 years old at a bodyweight of 170, I could max rep 275 on the bench. That was my limit. I was playing around the other night with doing reps of my bodyweight (still about 170) and I did 19. When I put that into a bench press calculator, the result was 270 pound, about the same at 56 (at least in theory). Keep up the bodyweight exercises, I think you’ll end up finding that they totally rock!

      1. Yeah they do. Between my physical therapists, spine surgeon, and my old strength coach … I should never get “under the bar” again. It can be tough, after suffering from the iron bug for 20 years. Couple of things I keep in mind: 1) Grok didn’t have a squat rack! 2) If Grok had blown a couple of discs, he would have become food. 3) Being the strongest guy in the room doesn’t translate to being the healthiest guy in the room.
        My favorite bodyweight exercise is using a rope wrapped around a tree in the yard, and doing leaning (forward/backward) rows, and rope push ups.
        These trigger the small muscles better, and also keep the focus on proper form with regards to my lower back.

        1. I’ve to try that! I feel that athletes are exploited all the time. Look at the NFL, get those guys as big and as fast as possible and then send them to battle. I remember catching up with my classmates who were football stars at reunions. It was so sad. By our 10th reunion, the injures had taken it’s toll on these guys (who were all under 30). It got so much worse by our 20th and 30th.

  35. Wanted to point out that your story had many similarities to my journey. 56 and not overweight and the requirement of food prep is so true.
    But really just wanted to let you know you mistakenly left dark chocolate off your shopping list??

  36. Great job Bobby! This is my favorite Friday update in a long time. You leave a good example to follow. I’ll look up your FB.

  37. I’m relatively new to Paleo. Anyone shed light on why no peanuts?
    Inspirational story, thanks.

    1. From the reading I’ve done, it’s because that peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts. A form of bean

  38. “The modern world is an alien wasteland of non-food.”

    That’s the single best argument for Paleo that I’ve ever read.

    1. I really do believe that we can eat almost anything and keep going, evolution has so adapted us for survival….but the sugar-laden paste that forms the bulk of the prefabricated fare I see in the lunch room seems to be the fastest way to age a body. If could have one wish granted for the poor of our nation, it would be to slay the evil EBT cards and give the people real food.

      1. Two years since I wrote that article. I have since dropped dairy. Now I have to make sure I throw in extra food, or my weight will drop below 166…at which point I look gaunt. Never felt better.

        1. I have now added Wim Hof beathing method to Primal living. Vitality going through the roof. Weight 160 pounds (close to high school wrestling weight). Can do endless pullups. Life is so good.

          1. 2020 Update. I have continued to follow the Primal Blueprint and have incorporated intermittent fasting as Mark recommends. Bodyweight went down to 156, my high school wrestling weight…except I’m far more muscular. Actually trying to put on some more muscle mass, but I’m so active at 61 that I burn through everything like a forest fire. I’m eighteen again…Thanks, Mark Sisson, you changed my life, along with millions of others in this sick country!