Monday, November 29, 2010

Paleo Enough?

I'm catching up on the past month or so of Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution podcasts, and was struck by a couple points he made in Episode 52 in response to a single question: Is taking BCAA supplements a violation of the Paleo diet's rules?

The question was from a listener who -- like me -- is following the "early morning fasted training" version of Martin Berkhan's LeanGains intermittent fasting protocol. Generally, when on the LeanGains program, one starts fasting after dinner and abstains from eating until lunchtime the next day. According to Berkhan, the fast is ideally broken "at noon or shortly thereafter," immediately after a workout.

Unfortunately, "[t]his poses a dilemma for those who can only train in the early morning hours." As Berkhan points out:
If you're training first thing in the morning and finish at 7 AM it would call for a feeding phase of 7 AM to 3 PM. That's just a bit too early for my liking. Could you still do it and start the fast in the middle of the day? Sure. But generally speaking, this would compromise diet adherence for most people.
Berkhan's proposed solution:
Most clients maintain their 8-hour feeding-window between 12-2 pm and 8-10 pm on all days. For those doing early morning fasted training, I have maintained that feeding window and added small feedings of BCAA pre- and post-workout.

Similar to fasted training, 10g BCAA is ingested pre-workout. However, instead of initiating the feeding phase immediately post-workout, which is the standard protocol for regular fasted training, another 10 g BCAA is ingested two hours after the first. A third dose may then be ingested depending on when the client prefers his feeding-window.
That's exactly what I've been doing on the days I exercise. Take this morning, for example. I woke up in a fasted state (having not eaten since 7 p.m. last night), changed into workout clothes, and gulped down 10 grams of BCAAs mixed with water before heading out to my 5 a.m. CrossFit class. An hour post-workout, I guzzled another 10 grams of BCAAs. And then another 10 grams two hours after that.

For a while, I used Vitamin Shoppe's generic brand of plain-jane BCAA powder, but it tasted like hell. So on Berkhan's recommendation, I bought a couple containers of Scivation's XTEND brand of BCAAs -- but the ingredients, which include "Red #1," "artificial flavors" and sucralose, are decidedly un-Paleo.

So what's the verdict, Mr. Wolf? Should I drink the stuff?

Robb's point of view: Chill the fuck out, people. (I'm paraphrasing slightly.) No, BCAA powder wasn't available to cavemen, and the chemicals in the stuff are in no way consistent with Paleo eating. But so what? According to Robb, the drawbacks of the small amount of BCCA supplementation recommended on the LeanGains plan are overshadowed by the need to maintain appropriate protein intake for muscle recovery and growth while on an intermittent fasting program. In other words: Go for it.

To drive home his point, Robb quoted an online commenter, John Ryan, who sagely wrote that "Paleo is a logical framework applied to modern humans -- not a historical reenactment."

Makes sense to me!

Paleo eating is supposed to make you healthier and stronger. The point isn't to slavishly replicate a caveman's actual diet just for the sake of being super-Paleo. Ancestral diets point us in the direction of better nutrition. It explains why we're not evolutionarily equipped to thrive on grains, legumes and dairy. It gives us clues as to why the Standard American Diet's emphasis on carbohydrate consumption is a very bad thing. But it shouldn't dictate every last morsel we stick into our mouths. Many of the foods I eat today weren't available to my prehistoric ancestors (unless they were regularly chowing on avocados, bacon, mac nuts and coconut flakes), but as long as they're not detracting from my health -- and I continue to look, feel and perform great -- who cares?

Of course, this means I probably ought to revisit my criticism of Mark Sisson's Primal Fuel for not being sufficiently "Paleo"...

(Photo: Stefan Kloo)