Eating For Performance (part two): A Spot of Caveman Bashing

How do you say first things first when you have 2 things you want to say first?! I’m gonna go for ‘first and second things first and second’-

1. If anyone wants to understand metabolic flexibility, eating for performance, carbohydrates in relation to exercise and long term body recomposition, I would highly recommend the Eat To Perform blog and their eBook on Metabolic Flexibility. I have learned a lot from the site, and it was the start of me revising my eating around February this year.

2. This content is targeted at people who are already in the gym, playing their sport or working out however it is they workout. Specifically those with high intensity regimes (such as lots of lifting weights, sprinting, body weight based exercises, CrossFit, martial arts etc). The info is all geared around knowing how to eat to support your performance (as per the title). If you are not currently working out you likely need different starting advice, a different nutrition plan and really a different blog post altogether. If you are reading and that is you, please get in touch and tell me what I could post about that would be useful to you (if that is something you would like)… If you are working out but you’re an endurance athlete (long distance runner say), again you’ll have a different starting point and different nutritional requirements, but I am not well equipped to help you. Sorry about that 😁

Now. Onwards.

Following on from part one, we are starting this post on the premise that we are working out, and given the stuff we talked about last instalment, we are accepting that if we are going to be more demanding on our bodies through a rigorous exercise regime, we are going to have to fuel that. Somehow. And we are decided that we would rather fuel that with our food than with our hard earned lean muscle mass (also known as Gainz). All on the same page?….good!

Now what I am going to say is not a newsflash or any kind of great revelation. I think it’s more the bit that people don’t talk about enough and so gets left out. Like it’s there, but no one highlighted that paragraph in your text book, so when you skimmed through you didn’t even read it, all you saw were the neon green bits. And all shiny and standing out in neon green you read:
– low carb = fat loss
– you can live low carb for life
– eating high protein low carb limits insulin spikes (and if we join the dots that must mean less fat & better health right?)
– cavemen didn’t eat carbs and neither should you
– if you CrossFit you should be Paleo too because obviously there’s a CrossFit Bible somewhere and that’s right in it on the first page. Obviously.


Well the thing is, most of that stuff is kinda true…yeah ok, with large handfuls of caveats, exceptions and ‘if’s thrown in for good measure. Explaining how and why some of it is true or less true is another post, but for now none of that needs disproving. We just need to add some orange highlights to the green highlights, and everything in orange is what you need to know as someone engaging in a high intensity exercise routine:

– there are different ways your body can produce energy: burning proteins is the least efficient, least helpful too in that it produces ketones which are a useable fuel around your body but a bit pants really . Burning fats is ok, sustainable long-term yes but it’s a pretty slow process and can’t hand over readily available fuel at high demands. And then there’s burning carbohydrates, which your body is good at, likes to do, can do efficiently and quickly, and produces glucose (which is the preferred fuel of your brain, and that’s pretty important…). And glucose is pretty magic as body fuel goes…
– the process of starvation (affectionately called carbohydrate depletion or low carbing by many…) sends your body in to a state called ketosis. This is where instead of primarily relying on glucose for fuel (your body’s preference), the body burns proteins for the primary fuel source instead.
– being in ketosis does not automatically equate to fat loss (before you get any bright ideas about trying to use it to manipulate your body!)
– there is a difference between training your body to be able to change fuel sources when it needs to (good thing), and living a life that means you force it to only ever use one source or lose the ability to use any others (bad thing).
– burning carbohydrates is not a problem. It is natural and good. There is really only ONE indigenous hunter-gatherer population on the planet that lives in permanent ketosis, and that would be the Inuits. So unless you live in the North Pole, that life is probably not for you…don’t be fooled in to thinking that low carb is the way we all once were and ever should be. Major falsehood.
– if you lift, CrossFit, wanna make Gainz, then ketosis is not your friend. Your best friend is glucose. And your room mate needs to be carbs.
you cannot fuel performance of and recovery from high intensity exercise without adequate carbohydrates
– low carbing has benefits- it can heal and restore balance when people have need for that. You could kind of say that low carb living provokes the body in to a stress response that forces it to adapt, and that is a helpful process to be in when your body has lost the ability to be flexible. But you do not fall in to the group of ‘I need a stress/adaptation response from low carb because I have systemic problems like chronic obesity, diabetes or a neurodegenerative disease’ (*and if you do you shouldn’t be taking advice from me because I am not a medic- please see a doctor). Your high intensity exercise is enough of a system stressor. With that alone next to the right support, your body will be able to make all the happy adaptions it needs to (remember from part one how we said that your body is clever?? Yeah…that).

In real life, trying a high intensity workout regime on a low carb/strict Paleo/low intake diet is likely to look like:
– not seeing improvements in your body composition (you are not losing your fat, you are not making muscle)
– not seeing improvements in your performance that are proportional to the work you put in
– your workouts feel like death
– you are wondering why you’ve been doing this so long but it still feels so hard
– you get super sore and achey, you don’t recover well, you rarely get those moments of feeling super strong, largely your body and muscles feel fatigued
– your motivation takes a hit, because you’re frustrated. Of course you’re frustrated…

But don’t just take this from me. Take it from Robb Wolf and Loren Cordain, THE names in Paleo living and the low carb state that induces. Both of whom have very important addendums that all high-intensity-workerouters need to read:

“I have tinkered with many, many clients and found the same results: as we push into the glycolytic pathway (think 800m sprints or a wrestling match) the wheels fall off the wagon if we have inadequate glycogen storage, as we simply cannot, under any adaptation scheme, produce that low-end torque from the beta-oxidation of fats, nor by utilizing ketones. I wish we could, but we can’t. Wishing this is not so is akin to The Secret…you can wish all you want for that Red Bicycle, but wishing does not make an impossibility a reality.”
Excerpt from an Article by Robb Wolf on Paleo, low carb and athletic performance

Less sciency translation: if you eat low carb you will not have enough readily available glucose or glycogen reserves (the glucose your body stores in your muscles and liver) to fuel high intensity training. You cannot train your body to perform high intensity exercise fuelled by anything but carbs. It is not possible. If you are trying to beat your body into submission, forcing it to do that work on a low carb, low calorie diet you need to give up, because it can’t happen, you won’t win.

This article neatly summarises the protocol Loren Corain needed to write a whole ‘nother Paleo book about! (Paleo Diet For Athletes)- this is how Dr Cordain says athletic populations need to do their version of Paleo:
1. Eat carbs before you train
2. Drink carbs while you train if it’s a long session
3. Take carbs after you train
4. To get better recovery continue eating carbs for several hours after training
5. Aim for 50% of your calories from carbs (for a standard 2000kcal diet that would be 1000kcal or 250g of carbs. That is not low carb people!).

And incase you missed the message, take one last excerpt from the 3rd article in this series from Robb Wolf on low carbing (great article on this topic btw…)

“What are Some wanker moves with regards to LC?
1- CrossFit or very hard training while LC or ketogenic. Crossfit burns through glycogen like nothing else I can imagine. If you are going to do it, you need carbs, quite a few of them.

So there you have it. Part two of this series has been a bit lengthier, but really it’s all about dispelling the myth that you need to combine your high intensity regime with a low calorie and/or low carb diet (Paleo diet would be both) to see success. And to get gone with the myth that carbs are bad. Carbs are your friend and you need em. In part three we will talk about making this real life and my experiences going through these very adjustments myself earlier this year. The truth is, your beliefs about the way you think you need to eat and what is “good” or “bad” are gonna be deeply ingrained. And changing them will take time. Give yourself time. Read this through again when you get a chance. Read the cited articles. Look it up. Ask people who have done it.

See you for part three soon…

Over and out.

7 responses to “Eating For Performance (part two): A Spot of Caveman Bashing

  1. Hi Danielle, I’ve fallen off the wagon. I planned to start training for the tough mudder when over the hols I have hurt my heel and ankle. Its taking a long time to heal and its getting me down. I have gone off eggs which I used to have for breakfast. I am now back to bad old habits. On the plus side ironically, I have been doing more walking. I do not want to continue to be on a boom and bust cycle of weight gain and loss and I would like to restore my energy levels and most importantly get on track with my overall fitness.

    • Hi honey, sorry it’s such a slow reply! Injuries do totally suck. And I hope they are improving day by day. When I am injured I try to keep active, my physio did tell me that being inactive is pretty much the opposite of what you wanna do when you’re injured. Do what you can, low impact, adapt things, keep mobilised, try to strengthen the injured areas. Tbh I would see someone if they are taking a long time to heal… Hope you get everything together again soon. Focus on the times you’ve felt the best in yourself, in your health, in your body, and remember all the things you did to get there and the hurdles you jumped back then. Retrace those steps…you know how to do this x

      • Thank you for your reply. I have found that starting exercising again really helps me to eat healthily. I saw very quickly how not doing my morning exercises robbed me of energy. Getting back on track! x

  2. I found ETP in January last year. It took me a bit to trust it, but then I seriously started applying the principles of Met Flex about mid-May and I’m loving it now. So easy and so natural. My body loves it too: I lost 10 lbs already eating more and improving all my lfts. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s