This is an open letter I sent to many male friends of a similar age in 2013. I'm hoping it provide insights about the primal diet, exercise, and lifestyle principles, blood tests to track health and disease risk markers, details about my daily diet and exercise routine. and hopefully inspiration to reject the flawed notion of the aging process that we hold and take action to delay the aging process.
In 2013, I took a blood test for first time in 12 years and achieved favorable results, I believe thanks to my transition to Primal Blueprint diet (for 5.5 years) and exercise (7.5 years) habits. Specifically, I transitioned away from the Standard American Diet (SAD) high in complex carbs to a Primal eating pattern that is comparatively very low carb, moderate protein, and very high fat. And I retired from the extremely health-destructive chronic cardio training regimen that I followed during my 15 years as a distance runner and triathlete from age 15-30. Following are some recommendations based on the principles of the Primal Blueprint and the ancestral health movement, and details of my personal diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits. Email me with comments and questions, thanks!
Summary of healthy lifestyle tips (details follow):
1. Minimize insulin production: #1 health risk in modern life.
2. Ditch grains and sugars: Pro-inflammatory, accelerate aging, promote fat storage.
3. Ditch vegetable oils: Pro-inflammatory, causing free radical reactions.
4. Move around more: Walk, take breaks, do structured workouts at a comfortable pace of 80% of max heart rate or less.
5. Go all-out: Include brief, high-intensity strength workouts 2x/week and all-out sprints 1x per 7-10 days. Preserve muscle mass, reduce body fat, and delay aging.
6. Sleep: Align your sleep habits with your circadian rhythm. Dark, mellow evenings; natural, energetic mornings
7. 21 Day Transformation:
A great overview of the primal approach and an excellent guidebook to take action in a 21 day format.
- 1. Fluctuating meal patterns
- 2. Very low carb (no sugars or grains) and high in healthy fats (by comparison to SAD)
- 3. Intermittent Fasting to optimize fat metabolism and cellular repair
The Primal Blueprint philosophy counters the "diet" concept of prescribed meals and regimented schedule. I engage in spontaneous Intermittent Fasting by typically eating in a compressed time window of 12pm-8pm. Caloric intake and meal choices vary wildly each day. Meals are predominantly fat and stimulate minimal insulin response, keeping my energy, blood sugar, and appetite stable all day, even when meals are skipped/missed.
Fasting, especially when paired with intense exercise, helps optimize adaptive hormones in the bloodstream and also improves cell repair (known as autophagy). The body becomes efficient when faced with intermittent caloric restriction. In contrast, always having enough or excessive food from our 3 squares a day mindset can accelerate cell division. Great for a young athlete trying to pack on muscle, but the essence of accelerated aging in later years.Note: Intermittent Fasting is only possible after optimizing fat metabolism through low-insulin eating pattern. Attempting to fast off of a high carb SAD diet will leave you tired, cranky, and hungry. Takes 21 days to reprogram genes to prefer fat (both stored and ingested) for energy instead of being reliant on regular ingestion of dietary carbs for energy.
Typical meals: Late breakfast of eggs and bacon a couple days a week, or just dark chocolate macadamia nut bark busted out around midday. Afternoon or evening large salads with vegetables, meat, nuts and olive oil dressing. Mass quantities of grassfed Wagyu-style hamburger from Thompson River Ranch
. General effort to find grassfed or organic animals, wild caught fish, locally grown or organic produce. Total elimination of all grains (wheat, rice, pasta, corn, and all derivatives), sugars/sweets and sweetened beverages. Beverage of choice is sparkling water with lemon or Kevita
sparkling probiotic drink. Snacks of coconut or macadamia nut butter and dark chocolate.
My macronutrient profile:
~66% fat (grassfed meat/fish/fowl/eggs, coconut products, macadamia nuts&nut butter, olive oil, avocados, dark chocolate)
~20% protein (1g/lb of lean body mass is the goal. Easily accomplished when animal products are emphasized)
~14% carb (under 150 grams/600 calories per day is the critical Primal goal. Easily accomplished when all grains and sugars are eliminated. This amounts to heaping servings of vegetables and moderate intake of fruit, only when in season)
Record what you eat on a notepad for a day or two, trying to measure or estimate quantities as best you can, then visit paleotrack.com
and input your data. It will generate a nice report with macronutrient and caloric breakdowns.
- 1. Easy jogging 15 min (or easy 25 min bike ride) every morning with dogs
- 2. Sprint drills most days for 5-10 minutes (hoppers, kick-outs, high knees, bicycle jumps, butt kicks, 1-legged drill - moderately strenuous 50-100m segments)
- 3. High intensity Strength Workout lasting 15-20 minutes, a 2-3 days per week. These are very simple and safe, mostly bodyweight or free weight efforts. e.g. Explosive squats into overhead press with 45lb weight, decline pushups, bench press, leg extensions...Try starting with Frog Squats (watch the brief video just for the music!) and pushups or decline pushups off a chair/bench.
- 4. Extremely high intensity Sprint Workout of typical drills plus 4 x 100 meters all out on grass field or track. Once every 7-10 days. I've been integrating sprint workouts for about 5 years. Takes a while to adapt but benefits are excellent. Can initiate this with low or no-impact sprinting such as cycling or exercise machines. Open the throttle!
- 5. 100 decline (legs elevated) reverse Spidermans (touch knee to opposite elbow) ~3 days a week for core strengthening and preventing back tightness/pain. Takes about 7 min in 3 sets (45, 35, 20). Typically adding a few extra daily efforts such as rubber band leg rehab exercises, a couple sets bench press, or a couple sets of 45lb explosive squats.
- 6. High jumping practices with schoolkids and 1x/week high intensity sessions with 12+ jumps and more jump drills.
- 7. Adult basketball league games in winter. I specialize in aggressive defense, perpetual fast breaking, and out of control attacks to the rim.
Avoid excess artificial light and digital stimulation
after dark. Using f.lux (download at stereopsis.com
if you insist on working on computer after dark), yellow lens sunglasses, and orange "bug" light bulbs (home depot or lowes). Goal is to create as dark and mellow an environment as possible in the hours leading up to bed. This will trigger Dim Light Melatonin Onset, a genetically programmed response where we become sleepy soon after dark in alignment with our circadian rhythms.
Introducing excess artificial light and digital stimulation after dark suppresses melatonin, elevates stress hormones, increases sugar cravings, and compromises optimal cycling through all phases of sleep. This in turn compromises immune function (healthy intestinal flora flourishes at night, while you sleep; as does cell repair and recovery from stress of daily life). Lights Out - Sleep, Sugar, and Survival,
a fantastic book on the subject, recommends we all sleep 9.5 hours per night in the winter, and can get away with 8 hours per night in the summer.
Your doctor will ensure you obtain the recommended tests appropriate for your age. Ancestral health experts recommend some additional tests to track healthy lifestyle habits and disease risks (detailed shortly). It's so easy today to go online and pay a fair price for comprehensive blood tests. I visiteddirectlabs.com
and paid $199 for a series of tests that retail for $1,800.
1. Cardiovascular risk: The #1 marker for cardiovascular risk is your "triglycerides-to-HDL" ratio. HDL is the good cholesterol that scavenges the bloodstream of dangerous molecules. Triglycerides reveal the level of fat in your bloodstream, something strongly influenced by the amount of insulin you produce, which correlates with how many carbs you eat. This reading is far more relevant to heart disease risk than your LDL reading.
It is now irrefutable by medical science that high levels of fat in the blood is very bad, while fat in the diet is healthy. We have been misled our entire lives about cause and effect here, and conventional wisdom still promotes saturated fat (the #1 source of dietary calories for thru 2.5 million years of human evolution) as bad to eat. Gary Taubes in Why We Get Fat
refutes this notion conclusively. Saturated fat is only bad for you in the presence of massively excessive dietary carbs/insulin production. Eat too many carbs, produce too much insulin and you convert excess carbs into triglycerides, and store them as excess body fat. Furthermore, excess insulin leads to systemic inflammation, believed to be the root cause of heart disease and cancer.
Here are some extra tests favored in the ancestral health community to supplement the profiles recommended by your physician:
- 1. Trigs-to-HDL ratio: Strive for 1:1 or better. Over 4:1 is dangerous. Triglyceride under 150 is critical, as is HDL over 40
- 2. Vitamin D: Regulates healthy cell division, details follow. Over 30 ng/ml is essential, 40-60 is optimal.
- 3. Fasting blood insulin: Long term marker of insulin overproduction. Strive to be in normal range.
- 4. HbA1C: Average blood glucose, long-term view. Strive for normal range.
- 5. Hs-CRP (High sensitivity C-reactive protein): A key marker for systemic inflammation that promotes disease. Under 3.0 is desired.
6. Colonoscopy and PSA (prostate marker) is also recommended for males ~50.
Notable results from my blood tests
Testosterone: 622 (Never over 280 on several tests from 1992 thru 2001. "Normal" range is 348-1197). The high carbohydrate diet, extreme endurance training pattern I engaged in for 15 years served to suppress my testosterone, elevate stress hormones, promote systemic inflammation, and accelerate the aging process. I have more anabolic hormone circulating in my bloodstream today at age 48 than I did as a world class triathlete at my peak at age 20-30. Note: A 2014 testosterone reading came in at 790. Interestingly, in the early months of 2015, I experienced burnout due to excessive running at a slightly too elevated heart rate as I trained for Speedgolf. During this time of low energy, a serum testosterone reading of 636 (still in the optimal range) was combined with a free testosterone reading of 6.8 (getting a free-T reading required a more sophisticated than normal blood test, the "male hormone panel" at DirectLabs.com). This 6.8 value drew a "low" flag as clinically hypo - bad news!. So despite my ample serum levels, my body was not circulating enough testosterone to act upon target organs and tissues and I was feeling fatigued and burnt out.
I turned things around by doing my aerobic runs even slower than what I already thought was really slow. This is the essence of Dr. Phil Maffetone's Maximum Aerobic Function training strategy. Running at a 130 heart rate limit for several months, I turned my health and energy around, and blood tests confirmed it. My October 2015 readings were serum 1,013 and free testosterone of 14.7! Here is a blog post with more details. Slowing down, avoiding chronic training patterns, eating primally, and getting tons of sleep has put me into a hormonal profile optimal for a high school dude, instead of in a low zone where I would be a candidate for hormone replacement.
Vitamin D: 55. Obtained primarily through sun exposure and also supplements, particularly in off season. Diet provides miniscule levels in comparison to sun or even supplements. Vitamin D helps regulate healthy cell division in the body. Vitamin D deficiency dramatically increases cancer risk. 75% of North Americans are believed to be chronically deficient due to indoor-dominant lifestyles, several months of the year where suns rays aren't strong enough to make vitamin D, and finally due to irrational fears of skin cancer that preclude exposing large skin surface areas of your body to direct sun. Get sufficient sun exposure over as much skin as possible, but never burn. Go ahead and screen your face to protect against over exposure, but you must absorb enough sun to maintain sufficient vitamin D levels or your cancer risk is dramatically increased.
C-reactive protein: 0.35. Under 3.00 is desired.
Triglycerides: 31. Under 150 is desired
HDL - 73. Over 40 is desired.
LDL total - 101. Means little without testing for LDL fraction sizes. Small, dense LDL contributes to heart disease while large, fluffy LDL is harmless, even in large amounts.