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Fad Fitness: To Eat Like a Caveman or Not?

Week 5: A carb crammer considers going Paleo


I was getting ready for work when it dawned on me.

Looking at the mountain of carbs that was my food for the workday—a packet of instant oatmeal, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, a smallish bowl of leftover pasta, a toasted pita, hummus and a nectarine—I knew it was impossible that I could ever follow the Paleo Diet.

As an endurance athlete, I’ve long considered carbs to be a cornerstone of my diet—the rocket fuel that keeps my body going miles into a run, bike ride or long day of peak-bagging. At a guess, I’d say they make up at least 65 percent of what I eat, and that’s been the case since I started running high school cross-country more than 15 years ago. I’ve adjusted portions over the years (it used to be two pb&j’s), but the makeup hasn’t really changed all that much.

But CrossFitters, including my friends at CrossFit South Brooklyn, are big proponents of Robb Wolf’s protein-rich Paleo Diet, which, like CrossFit, is said to harken back thousands of years to when humans were, essentially, cavemen. It was before the development of modern agriculture, when people subsisted by gathering plants and hunting or scavenging wild animals. The diet is made up of “clean” animal proteins (lean, grass-fed beef, fish and the like), vegetables, nuts, seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. 

The argument for this nutritional approach is that humans evolved most of their systems eating wild animals, veggies and nuts, and we’re simply not genetically wired to handle a modern processed foods and grain-heavy diet. Wolf claims that it’s this crappy diet—my crappy diet—that’s at the root of degenerative diseases like obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression and infertility. The Paleo Diet, on the other hand, purports to make you lean, strong and energetic.

And it’s not only carbs that he throws under the bus. Dairy (including, yes, cheese!), sugar and fruit get short shrift, too. Anyway, it’s not the carbs situation that bothers me about Paleo; it’s really that it seems 1) inconvenient to squeeze into a busy schedule and 2) really expensive. You are supposed to eat three to four meals a day, and each should contain 4 to 8 oz. of cooked lean protein, several vegetables and nuts. That’s a lot of organic, grass-fed proteins—around seven times the amount of meat I currently eat—that cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to prepare. Also, I don’t think that diet will support my running (or my Christmas cookie eating, for that matter).

Long story short? I’m not about to jump on that part of the CrossFit bandwagon, at least not for now.

In class this week it’s been Back Off Week, which means classes are actually relatively easy. In every class, we focused on the finer points of a single lift—something called a “split jerk” one day and “box squats” another—and working our way up in weight. The spirit of torture is still there, if not the practice. After split jerks, when we have to choose between 2,000 meters of rowing or running a mile, the instructor says, “We advise you to choose whichever you hate more.”

No problem, coach. I’ll go for a row.
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About the Project: The Active Times' Fad Fitness Challenge is a six-week-long project in which five hapless writers will immerse themselves in five popular fitness programs—CrossFit (at CrossFit South Brooklyn), Insanity, Barre, Flywheel and Kettlebell classes—for the dual purposes of getting in shape and evaluating them for our readers. We guinea pigs will bust our butts, burn calories and discover muscles we'd long since mothballed and, if all goes well, emerge into the New Year with a well-rounded perspective of the top fitness fads. Check back every weekday from now until the New Year to come along for the ride without breaking a sweat. Click here to check out the rest of the programs.

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