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65. Caveman Corner #2 – Why is it important to eat like our ancestors ate?

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You’ve heard the term Paleo or Paleolithic diet, Primal, Caveman, Ancestral Health, eating clean etc. but what does it actually mean? ‘Paleo’ = old ‘lithic’ = stone. The Paleolithic era spans 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, the period in which humans came to dominate our planet.

Ancestral health experts are in general agreement that we are out of step with our evolutionary biology. We have hunter gatherer genes but live in an artificial world of processed food and high stress lifestyles that our bodies have not yet evolved to deal with in an optimal way.

Paleo has been a fringe movement for a number of years but is now starting to cross over into mainstream culture as evidence emerges that the nutritional and lifestyle advice pedalled to us by Governments, researchers, doctors, and ‘specialist’ advisors for the last 40+ years is seriously flawed and causing us to become ill. We have the most advanced healthcare systems ever but are surrounded by escalating rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer and neuro-degenerative disorders - ever stopped to wonder that something is wrong?

Eating a Paleo diet isn’t about historical re-enactment or hunting your neighbours pets at night (in my experience you quickly exhaust the local supply of domestic animals and have to roam ever further from home which expends excessive energy…). It’s about utilising foods available to us today that have the same metabolic effect as those our ancestors ate and you can do this at the local supermarket, you just have to know what to look for, hint – stay at the edges (fresh stuff) and avoid the middle (processed stuff).

In caveman times carbs were hard to come by – the main sources of sugar were berries (available once a year at end of summer) and honey (guarded by bees) so sugar was not a regular food / energy source. Our bodies evolved to store fat as a response to eating carbs (eg. berries at the end of summer) in order to survive periods of low food availability during harsh winters. This is a beautiful example of evolution - those who could successfully store fat from carbs had a higher chance of survival through harsh winters – except now we are surrounded by carbs and sugars 365 days a year - our bodies are permanently in fat storage mode when we eat carbs, hence the obesity epidemic. This has been known for years but still the ‘official’ advice is to eat high carb, low fat…doh !!

My sport is cycling - removing the reliance on high carb energy drinks, gels etc. that typical endurance sports participants (myself included) use at every opportunity has been (and still is) an interesting journey.

So who am I to talk about this? I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, but I do have an engineering background, I can read research papers and sift evidence. I’ve followed this lifestyle for 2.5 years now and can talk from first hand experience on most of what we’ll discuss in the blog. I am currently studying to be a certified Paleo lifestyle coach. I’m not seeking to convert anyone, just reveal the emerging science and thinking on this topic. It seems like sometimes the latest research on what makes us healthy is a big secret… Next week we’ll start to look at the details… Resource of the week: Paleo Magazine – Paleo 101

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MarkFreeman

about 2 years ago

Andy, with your mention of gels, I'm looking forward to seeing how you manage energy requirements in long distance events. I don't find gels particularly great in any case and after 3-4hrs I just crave something full fat, carb-laden and savoury! I think I might find it difficult to manage that desire whilst being Paleo - nothing beats a pork pie with pickle and mustard after 6hrs of effort!!!!!

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AndyG

about 2 years ago

Hi Mark, yes long distance events are a challenge !! It boils down to how efficient you can become at utilising fat as a primary fuel source (rather than carbs/sugar). We all have an almost endless supply of body fat to utilise, glycogen stores are far more limited. Become more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source and you'll be able to do low to moderate work with minimal external fuel - eg. I find I can now cycle 60-80+ miles at a low - moderate pace on just water. It's the moderate to hard workouts (which for most of us means a shift towards burning glycogen stores) where it gets more tricky. Some ultra runners (eg. Zach Bitter, check out http://zachbitter.com/coaching.php) have focussed on nutrition to become so efficient at burning fat as a fuel source they can run (and win) 50+mile ultra races at a moderate to hard pace with almost no external fuel sources. I'm not that efficient (yet) so I take macadamia nuts and a banana along on moderate to hard rides with a backup energy bar/gel as an insurance policy which I'll try not to use. Definitely a topic for future blogs...

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