Old School Eating for Bodybuilders to Promote Muscle Gains

Old-School Eating for Bodybuilders

Keep an open Mind when it comes to Nutrition

Do you want a bigger bulge in your biceps but no bulge in your belly? Take an old-school concept and apply it to your diet Do as that sage Greek suggested: Learn one subject through the study of another. Eat the way people used to eat before the advent of farming. Embrace old-school eating.

Warning: The following information is controversial, is solely the opinion of the author. The article is offered as a new perspective in which to encourage evaluation and debate. As always, please consult a medical professional before embarking on any new diet regimen.

Along-gone, sage Greek said wise men can learn about one subject by studying a seemingly unrelated topic, and guess what? He was right. You can learn, for instance, how to get ripped and how to keep muscle by studying the lessons and lingo of basketball. Players who make no-look passes, ankle-breaking crossovers and 360-degree dunks may make the highlight reels, but these athletes don't necessarily make their teams winners. The guys who set back screens and cut back door, collect floor burns and floor-boards, take charge and charge at you are the ones who determine the outcome of games. One phrase, of high praise, is reserved for and best describes these hyperkinetic hoopsters: old school. This moniker means they play the game the way it used to be played years ago before the game went Hollywood.

According to Ray Audette, author of NeanderThin: Eat Like a Caveman to Achieve a Lean, Strong, Healthy Body and possibly the most radical proponent of what's known as Paleolithic nutrition, old-school eating means eating meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, seeds and little else. No grains, beans, potatoes, dairy products or sugar are part of the caveman diet. Sound extreme? A bit excessive? Your reaction depends on your understanding of genetics and your opinion of obesity and modern disease. Most geneticists agree our genes have only been altered about one hundredth of one percent since the development of agriculture transformed the masses from hunter-gatherers to farmers. In other words our genes are 99.99 percent the same as they were 10,000 years ago; yet paleontologists know obesity and diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer didn't afflict hunter-gatherers, a pattern still true today in the few pockets of the world where people still subsist on the hunter-gatherer diet.

Many experts also believe an even more dramatic change in the industrialized world's eating habits 200-plus years ago -the reliance on highly processed, nutritionally compromised, packaged food rather than fresh foods - has exacerbated the above health problems. Perhaps eating like a hunter-gatherer isn't such an outlandish idea after all - especially when eating in this manner allows weightlifters to swap fat for muscle in a way not as impractical as Audette makes it seem.

How to Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer

Audette's aforementioned advice is, without a doubt, as hardcore as a 100-rep set of full front squats. He also advocates eating raw meat (if obtained from the wild and not from a supermarket), limiting consumption of fruits and vegetables, and no cheating whatsoever. "If you can't stick to the diet religiously," he writes in his book, "you are better off not adopting it at all. "He claims that once on his diet, treating yourself to a forbidden food will have an even more deleterious effect than when you ate the food regularly. His logic: "Because the immune system responds to even small doses, the smallest amount of the forbidden fruit may produce weight gains far out of proportion to their size" and make you ill. However, other proponents believe you can derive benefits from Paleolithic nutrition without being so extreme.

S. Boyd Eaton, MD, the guy who started this Paleolithic-diet movement in 1985 when the New England Journal of Medicine published his article "Paleolithic nutrition: A consideration on its nature and current implications," takes a more pragmatic approach in The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living, a book he helped write. While Audette views any divergence from the hunter-gatherer's diet as cheating, Eaton's prescribed diet allows careful consumption of dairy foods with little or no butterfat and minimally processed whole-grain breads and cereals since he believes "what is important is that the foods we eat provide the same spectrum and proportion of nutrients ... as were eaten by our hunting and gathering ancestors."As a result, Eaton's diet permits foods such as potatoes and legumes that Audette's diet forbids on the grounds that hunter-gatherers did not consume them.

Loren Cordain, PhD, whose book The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat is the most recent to advocate Paleolithic nutrition, takes the middle ground. Even though Cordain argues cereal grains are best left for the birds,"he schedules into his diet open meals, at which you can eat grains and dairy, so you can occasionally eat the foods Audette abolishes. Despite differences among these experts, all three diets (and virtually all Paleolithic eating patterns) have three significant similarities. The idea behind old-school eating is for you to embrace these similarities as a way to improve your overall physique and health.

The Three Rules for Old-school Eating

1. Make meat protein the mainstay of each meal.

The best estimate is that ancient hunter-gatherers obtained up to 60 percent of their calories from protein, and most of that protein came from meat. Considering the low percentages of fat contained in wild game, Cordain's suggestion of deriving 55 percent of your total calories from protein and fat found in meat and fish appears on target. However, old-school eating doesn't give you license to down hamburgers and hot dogs. The intent of this manner of eating is to consume nearly the same nutrients as the hunter-gatherers did. You should eat wild-game meat such as venison and smaller non-predatory types of fish such as flounder (to minimize contamination from pollution) as often as possible.

When you can't, eat the leanest cuts of red meat, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, halibut, herring and shellfish, preferably from free-range animals and fish. This emphasis on meat in the Paleolithic diet aids the bodybuilder in a number of ways: The diet provides a steady supply of complete protein to build and repair muscle; the diet revs up the metabolism since digesting protein is an inefficient process; and the diet keeps the ingestion of corrupted carbs, chiefly highly processed grain products, to a minimum since you'll be eating primarily meat and vegetables (along with a fair amount of good fat from oils such as flaxseed, canola and olive that you will use on your vegetables).

2. Cut out the use of corrupted carbs.

Contrary to what the late Dr. Atkins and his allies would have you believe, not all carbohydrates are inherently evil. What is inherent is carbs are typically a bodybuilder's best source of energy - and that some carb-based foods such as whole grains are not exactly chocked full of vitamins and minerals. What is evil is how complex carbs have been disparaged by Atkins and his associates - and how food processing corrupts such carbs. Milling grains in the modern way eliminates most of their vitamins and minerals, strips away the fiber, and creates a simple, corrupted carbohydrate that digests quickly and causes blood sugar to rise in response, triggering an excessive release of insulin. Eat too high a percentage of corrupted carbs, e.g. refined grains and refined sugars, for too long, and you develop insulin resistance, which almost guarantees one or more of the following afflictions: elevated LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreased HDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Eat according to the old-school rules, and you will eat only natural carbs, not those altered by humans. The question we are left to ask is: Whose definition of natural will you use? Audette, for example, dates the corruption of carbs not to the advent of the milling of grain and widespread use of white bread 120 years ago, but to the earliest forms of agriculture that originated 10,000 years before the arrival of milling.

Without a doubt, the cultivation of grains created dramatic dietary change. First, only a few plants were selected for cultivation, limiting the range of plant foods consumed. For instance, one of the peoples still hunting and gathering today, the !Kung San tribe of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, get their carbs from among 105 species of plants. All Paleolithic hunter-gatherers (except the Arctic Inuit, i.e. Eskimos) ate dozens of different types of plant foods - roots, beans, nuts, tubers, fruits and flowers -but very few cereal grains. Second, Eaton notes grain cultivation led to "spontaneous hybrid forms." Unfortunately, when these forms were selectively and repeatedly bred, their nutrition diminished. "Wild einkorn wheat, for example, has 50 percent more protein than does hard winter wheat (the most common type grown in North America), and many wild plant foods contain more calcium than do their cultivated forms."

Because Audette and Cordain feel our bodies don't digest grains effectively and, as a result, our nutrition is compromised, they eliminate the use of grains in their diets. Audette, in particular, feels the proteins in grains and legumes are the cause of many immune-system diseases such as diabetes, allergies, arthritis, colitis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, lupus, endometriosis, many forms of cancer, and most arterial disease. However, the original Paleolithic diet as described in Eaton's book permits grains as long as the majority of them are complex carbohydrates. In review, corrupted carbs are anathema to old-school eaters, but natural carbs are a blessing. You, your metabolism and your immune system must decide, though, if cultivated whole grains are indeed natural.

A good way to decide is to eliminate from your diet all whole-grain products for two weeks. Note how you feel after two weeks and then slowly add small amounts of whole grains to your diet. In essence, you're using Audette's theory of threshold response (though you're using the theory to reintroduce something he wants you to eliminate). He believes that, with allergies and immune-system diseases, no reaction occurs until a certain level of exposure occurs. However, once this level is reached, problems result. By incrementally increasing your ingestion of whole grains after a period of abstinence, you'll be able to determine what amount of grains is best for you. This elimination-reintroduction experiment would be repeated if you're an old-school eater who wants to consume low-fat or no-fat dairy products.

3. Diminish the role of dairy in your diet.

The use of whole-milk dairy products is verboten in all three aforementioned Paleolithic diets. Audette rules out the use of such products because using them breaks his most sacrosanct principle: Eat only the foods available to you if you possessed no technology other than a sharp stick or stone. Furthermore, he explains "Human milk is quite different in composition from the milk of cud-chewing animals for sale on the grocer's shelf" and that cow's milk is "designed for an entirely different digestive system and often conflicts with that of humans."The proliferation of peoples with lactose intolerance certainly is a strong supporting argument for this assertion, but Eaton sees no reason why low-fat and no-fat dairy products can't be used moderately. He calls skim milk a fine beverage choice, citing that it has 14 times more protein than fat and is rich in calcium. As with whole grains, Cordain again takes the middle ground. He feels dairy products should be eliminated from the diet but allows them during open meals. After you use the elimination-reduction process to decide how to handle the dairy dilemma, you have only three more things to do: Keep following the three rules; keep working out; and start watching your body get better.

The Good That Comes from Old-school Eating

The list of the good is so long it's ridiculous. The driving force behind all the variations of Paleolithic diets is Eaton's discordance hypothesis - the belief that the foods humans consume have changed immensely but our genetic makeup hasn't (only one hundredth of one percent in 10,000 years). The foods we eat, then, are to blame for what proponents of Paleolithic nutrition call "the diseases of civilization." For bodybuilders, the benefits of old-school eating go beyond a dramatically reduced incidence of atherosclerosis, hypertension, osteoporosis and cancer. Many of the benefits are performance- and appearance-based.

First and foremost, old-school eating rather than the traditional North American diet leads to weight loss that is quite often unintentional. The reason is protein has the highest "satiating value" of the three macronutrients, and since protein is the mainstay of old-school meals, the likelihood you'll overeat is reduced. The types of carbs that you eat help, too. Not only do eating fruits and vegetables minimize the insulin response, but they are also low in calories compared to corrupted carbs. Consider that even with the majority of calories coming from calorie-dense meat, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers ate on average five pounds of food per day but consumed only 3,000 calories daily in total. Eat five pounds of today's most rich and satisfying foods and you can consume up to 9,000 calories. Unlike a typical dieter, the bodybuilder's sole goal is not weight loss. A reduction in bodyfat is more important, and nothing beats old-school eating to reduce bodyfat naturally.

Studies performed on two groups who still hunt and gather, the African Bushmen and the Eskimos, have shown them to have the lowest fat-to-bodyweight ratios of any peoples presently on the planet, despite the fact these two groups don't work as long or as hard as agricultural peoples. Imagine how chiseled you could become if you not only ate the way hunter-gatherers do, but also took a ton of energy into the weight-room, for old-school eating increases one's energy level as well. Cordain's book documents personal stories from those who have lost weight by following his diet, and every anecdote mentions a corresponding increase in energy and stamina, including the passage by Joe Friel, a well-known expert on fitness who has written several books on training endurance athletes. He has found he recovers faster from workouts now that he has adopted Cordain's diet. Friel recommends the diet to the athletes he advises.

One Final Thought

Old-school basketball players make hoops an intellectual endeavor. Old-school eaters need to use their noodle, too. That, in essence, is what separates old-school eating from the Paleolithic diets that it borrows so heavily from. Because individuals process food into energy as differently as hoopsters hoist jump shots, you need to find what works best for you rather than blindly adhering to the results of another's research or experience. The most successful old-school eaters use the three rules as guidelines, not gospel.

An Important Addendum

Many bodybuilders eschew fruit because it contains fructose, a sugar that turns to fat rather easily; yet some of the same bodybuilders eat energy bars that contain high-fructose corn syrup, a bigger dietary devil. Between fruit and energy bars, natural fructose in fruit is clearly the lesser of two evils, and in most cases its elimination from your diet is not necessary for a marked decrease in bodyfat unless you're attempting to achieve the ultralow bodyfat level needed for high-level competition.

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