Friday, August 28, 2009

Intersection: NightLife Goes Primal

Fleganism.

Goodness. Three years of eating a "flexible vegan" diet are now under the bridge.

I enjoyed them. Being flegan expanded my culinary skills and leaned my body. The prodigious consumption of fresh produce virtually eliminated my seasonal allergies and longstanding arthritis pain in my bunions. I felt virtuous and strong.

Until I tried to get stronger.

Last March, a good friend got me started on bodybuilding. No, not the steroid-laced hoax whose ultimate goal is the perfect(ly grotesque) photo of a musclebound body that can't perform real work.

I'm talking about real bodybuilding. Pushing, pulling, and lifting bodyweight and iron. Building functional strength that can drive a fence post, buck hay, run for miles, and ride an endurance horse as effortlessly through mile 45 as at the starting line.

For several months, all went well. I ate my usual flegan meals based on whole grains, legumes, and plenty of vegetables. My push-up count climbed. My sprint times fell. By June, I could see the beginnings of six-pack abs...but I could also feel the strain.

Slower recovery times, cottony muscles that performed hard workouts in the morning but wanted to nap by afternoon, and reduced sleep quality all had me looking for answers. I knew nutrition was almost certainly a major factor, but wasn't I already offering my cells a glorious buffet of healthful, whole foods? What was going wrong?

Intuition, research, and discourse with my bodybuilding friend led me to one of the more obvious solutions: protein. Even the most protein-rich vegan foods, many of which are highly-processed soy products, don't hold a candle to animal products.

I stopped selling my chickens' eggs and started eating them. Two a day. It helped. I kept reading, scouring the library and internet for ideas supported by published, independent, peer-reviewed research rather than the industry-financed, politically-motivated stuff of conventional wisdom.
Patterns emerged. Startling patterns that warred with my existing nutritional construct. Patterns backed by research. Patterns I couldn't ignore. Protein, it transpired, was the tip of the iceberg.

Here's what I learned:

  • Whole grains are bad for you. Legumes aren't much better.
  • Carbohydrate reduction -- not calorie reduction -- is the key to fat loss and good health.
  • Large quantities of natural dietary fats, including saturated fats, are beneficial.
  • Animal products are important for thriving health.
Scores of articles, chapters, blog posts, and research papers passed under my review as I evaluated these ideas. Meanwhile, I added a daily serving of fish to my diet....and felt better. I took the huge step of eliminating all grains and legumes....and felt much better. Reluctantly, I reintroduced more meats while maintaining my usual, high rate of vegetable consumption...and felt better still.

But what did I eat? How does a person who has relied for calories predominantly on grains and legumes survive without them? By replacing them with natural, healthful fats and proteins, that's how.

My daily diet shifted from this "flegan" menu:

Pre-workout: Green drink (smoothie made with bananas, pear, grapes, kale, and flaxseed)
Breakfast: More green drink and oatmeal with walnuts, dried fruit, and unsweetened soy milk
Lunch: Spinach salad with chickpeas, mixed raw vegetables, and olive oil vinaigrette
Snack: Natural peanut butter
Dinner: Barley pilaf with artichoke hearts

2,287 calories, 314 grams carbs, 100 grams fat, 74 grams protein

...to this "primal" menu:

Pre-workout: Banana with almond butter
Breakfast: Spinach salad with tuna, olives, sunflower seeds, mixed raw vegetables, and olive oil vinaigrette
Lunch: Hot vegetable curry topped with 2 hard boiled eggs
Snack: Walnuts
Dinner: Gazpacho with avocado and grilled chicken, mango, and jicama salad
Dessert: Blueberries with coconut milk

2,271 calories, 135 grams carbs, 147 grams fat, 137 grams protein

Same number of calories. Half the carbs. One and a half times the fats. Twice the protein. All the produce!

Since that shift, I've played around with the carbohydrates a bit and found that I do best on slightly more than your typical "primal" maintainance level, given my penchant for extreme(ish) fitness and extensive physical activity. I've leaned out, chiseled that six-pack, built and cut some serious muscle in my limbs and back, and banished the bloating and low-energy that had plagued my flegan self.

So. So long, fleganism. I loved ya, but it's time to move on.

Needless to say, this shift from "ideal eating" (according to conventional wisdom and the vegan crowd) has caused quite a stir among my acquaintances, particularly those who shared a vegetarian bent. Several people have expressed downright alarm. Many have asked the same questions I did, questions no doubt raised by this post:

What on earth is wrong with whole grains and legumes?
Are you sure fat is healthful?
Animal products? Seriously?
So, you're doing Atkins now? (Nope!)
What does "primal" mean?

I don't claim to have all the answers -- but I do have some, along with a lot of logic and research to back up my own, anecdotal experience. Instead of trying to regurgitate all of it here, allow me to refer those who are interested to a few resources, just for starters:

Mark's Daily Apple (Primal nutrition and fitness)
Fitness Spotlight (Low-carb nutrition and fitness)
The Vegetarian Myth (book review by Dr. Michael Eades)
Cholesterol and Health (Fat and cholesterol research)
Food Renegade (Real food & related politics. Home of Fight Back Fridays!)
Good Calories, Bad Calories (Book regarding the science of low-carb eating by Gary Taubes)

Note: Most of the above links will take you to main pages; be sure to click around and read the sites more deeply. I'll link directly to articles on particular topics in future posts.

And so, my friends, NightLife turns down the primal path. Shall we see where it leads?
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4 comments:

foodrenegade said...

Welcome to your primal journey! What a neat testimony.

Thanks, too, for joining in today's Fight Back Fridays carnival.

Cheers,
~KristenM
(AKA FoodRenegade)

Jen said...

I found you through Fight Back Fridays. What a great story, and new path for you. I was relieved to see coconut milk, instead of soy milk in your new diet!

Best of luck!

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Thanks for the welcome, Kristen! I subscribed to FR as soon as I found it, and I haven't been sorry. :)

Jen -- thanks so much for dropping by. You aren't kidding about the soy milk...yikes!

enlightenedhorsemanship said...

This is a fantastic post loaded with information I will be looking into. I don't know if I'll ever be able to eat animal products, but it pays to learn as much as you can. Thanks.