Thursday, April 22, 2010


As the cat lapses into savagery by night, and barbarously explores the dark,
so primal and titanic is a woman with love madness.

~ Frank Gelett Burgess

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Tallies: Primal Menus and Movement

My occasional answer to the frequently asked questions, "What do you eat?" and "How do you work out?"

Thursday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: Spinach salad with alfalfa sprouts, steamed carrots, sugar snap peas, and green beans, canned wild salmon, cashews, a hardboiled egg, olive oil, and vinegar.

Lunch: Round steak. Steamed Brussels sprouts, carrots, sugar snap peas, and green beans with butter.

Dinner: Eggs and bacon. Fresh blackberries and strawberries with coconut milk. Half an ounce of 99% chocolate.

Thursday's Workout: 8x 100-meter hill sprints. Grease-the-groove pull-ups and push-ups.

Friday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: Spinach salad with salmon, half an apple, carrot, walnuts, and cinnamon-cider vinegar-olive oil dressing.

Lunch: Italian-style egg salad made with bacon, olives, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, oregano, plain yogurt, mustard, balsamic vinegar, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

Dinner: Baked spaghetti squash with butter and herbs. Blackberries and strawberries with coconut milk.

Friday's Workout: Rest day.

Saturday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: 3 fried eggs with bell pepper, onion, and avocado. Sausage. Fried spaghetti squash.

Lunch: Half an apple and half a banana with almond butter.

Pre-workout: Handful of brazil nuts.

Post-workout: Full-fat cottage cheese with fresh strawberries.

Dinner: Grilled salmon with ginger-sesame-lime marinade. Steamed sugar snap peas. Glass of red wine.

Saturday's Workout: Full day of horse training, riding, and farm work. 5x barbell lunges, weighted HLRs, deadlifts, and bent-over barbell rows.

Sunday's Food as Fuel:

Breakfast: Baked butternut squash with coconut milk and cinnamon. Avocado and cream cheese rolled in sliced roast beef.

Lunch: Salmon, egg, and raw zucchini salad. Raw sugar snap peas.

Dinner: Half a banana with almond butter. Strawberries and blackberries in coconut milk.

Sunday's Workout: Full day of horse training, riding, and farm work.

Monday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: Spinach salad with tuna, artichoke hearts, olives, sundried tomatoes, walnuts, alfalfa sprouts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Lunch: Salmon, egg, and raw zucchini salad.

Dinner: Spaghetti squash sauteed in butter. Italian hot sausage. Almond butter and 99% dark chocolate "cookies."

Monday's Workout: Rest day. High stress at work, and little time.

Tuesday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: Intermittent fast until 1:00.

Lunch: Spinach salad with canned tuna, alfalfa sprouts, steamed carrots and green beans, sunflower seeds, and olive oil & vinegar.

Pre-workout: Cottage cheese and strawberries.

Dinner: Roast chicken. Butternut squash with coconut oil and herbs. Blackberries and coconut milk.

Tuesday's Workout: 5x rotation of backsquats (New PR put me over bodyweight!), renegade rows, bench presses, and military presses. Tacked on grease-the-groove style pullups and pushups.

Notes: I find myself shifting toward larger breakfast and lunch meals, and a smaller dinner. This is partly because I've narrowed my eating window most days; that is, I almost always go at least 14 hours between dinner and breakfast, which pushes breakfast and lunch quite late in the day, so I don't need a huge meal come dinnertime. This can be problematic, however, because I often need to cook in the evening in order to have leftovers for future meals. I'm working on it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ground Beef and Sweet Potato Curry

Many of us primal eaters are looking for ways to balance our O-6:O-3 ratios and our budgets. Considering that one of the best ways to achieve the former is to consume grass-fed, grass-finished meats, the latter can be difficult! Many of us have to compromise by supplementing our conventional meat intake with quality fish oil, and buying less expensive cuts of grass-fed meat.

Ground beef is an easy and inexpensive favorite, but too much of it can lead to a meal plan that's, well, less than exotic. This recipe, requested by reader Barb, is one way I've managed to jazz it up a bit. Obviously, you can take the basic concept and mix it up any way you like. Use chicken or steak in place of the ground beef. Try different vegetables (carrot and zucchini work well). Heat things up or cool them down. Curry is an astonishingly flexible dish. Enjoy!

Ground Beef and Sweet Potato Curry

1 lb ground beef
1 medium, yellow onion, julienned
1 red or yellow bell pepper, julienned
1 Anaheim pepper (or try a pasilla or a couple jalipenos), julienned
1 Tbs coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated or minced
2 Tbs red curry paste
2 Tbs hot curry powder
2 Tbs mild curry powder
1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) full-fat coconut milk
1 cup beef broth
1 medium sweet potato, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
Unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped almonds, and minced green onion (optional, for garnish)

Brown ground beef and set aside. Saute onions and peppers in coconut oil until al dente, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and curry paste and powders. Saute another minute, stirring frequently, to toast spices without burning. Add tomatoes, coconut milk, broth, ground beef, and sweet potato and stir to combine. Cover and simmer over low heat until sweet potato is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve topped with coconut flakes, almonds, and green onion if desired. Serves 4.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bloody Marvelous

I just received the results of my first-ever blood panel.

Normally, I avoid conventional medicine (aside from emergency care, which is a whole other -- and much more impressive! -- ballgame) like the plague that it (mostly) is.

But, when Central District Health brought a $22 cholesterol screening and fasting blood glucose test clinic to my office, I couldn't pass up the chance for some cheap numbers. My inner geek demands regular feedings, after all, and I was dying to know whether this high fat, moderate protein, fairly low carb diet was killing me.

I've been primal (closer to paleo, actually) for a good 7 months now. Unfortunately, I don't have "before" blood work. A comparison would be fascinating, particularly as I'd been mostly vegan for the previous three years.

Anyway, here are the numbers as they came off the report. Interpretation to follow.

Fasting blood glucose: 84 mg/dL (Optimal is 60-100. Higher puts you in the pre-diabetes or diabetes category.)

Total cholesterol: 216 mg/dL (Optimal is under 200. Or so says conventional wisdom. Wait for it...)

Triglycerides: 38 mg/dL (Optimal is 30-150.)

HDL: 101 mg/dL (Optimal is 40 or more. This is the "good" cholesterol.)

LDL: 107 mg/dL (Optimal is under 100. According to conventional wisdom.)

I know enough about cholesterol to be unconcerned about these numbers, but for all the gory details, I pulled up this fantastic post, written by a knowledgeable member of the MDA forum. "Griff" has actually reversed full-fledged, type II diabetes with diet alone, and he knows his stuff.

As Griff explains clearly and thoroughly, total cholesterol is much less important than the ratios between the numbers, and LDL cholesterol numbers from a simple test like this are inaccurate in anyone with triglycerides below 100 mg/dL.

Let's start with that second point. LDL is typically calculated using the Friedwald formula, but it is well known that the formula only works properly, mathematically speaking, if trigs are higher than 100 mg/dL. Therefore, because my trigs only came in at 38, I know that the 107 listed for my calculated LDL is inaccurate.

Fortunately, there is a different and more accurate formula available. According to the Iranian calculation (detailed in Griff's post, if you're curious), my LDL is actually only 71.7 -- well within the optimal range of 100 or fewer mg/dL. So there.

Now, let's talk about ratios. There are three that count. Here are mine and what they mean:

Total:HDL = 216:101 = 2.1 (Ideal for women is 4.4 or lower. This indicates that my LDL cholesterol is predominantly Pattern A, or "large fluffy," which is neutral rather than dangerous.)

Trigs:HDL = 38:101 = .37 (Ideal is 2 or lower. This indicates low risk of heart disease, as well as low free insulin, which is a good thing.)

LDL:HDL = 71.7:101 = .7 (Ideal is 4.3 or below. Even using the inaccurate, Friedwald formula, my ratio is still stellar at 1. This indicates that I have very little carotid plaque.)

So. It looks like I'm not going to keel over from coronary heart disease anytime soon.

Pass the bacon n' barbell, please.

For details of what I've been eating these past 7 months, check out the posts labeled Tuesday Tallies. You'll see that they've changed some over time (mostly in a carb-lowering direction), but the central principles have remained intact.

PSA: If you have bloodwork results of your own handy, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and run the ratios on them. Your numbers can be low enough to satisfy your doctor, yet your ratios could put you in the danger zone. Conversely, you may have been prescribed statins (and all their nasty side effects) when your ratios are actually quite safe. See the MDA post linked above for easy instructions on how to do the math.

For further reading, there are lots of links in the post. See also Protein Power by the Drs. Eades.

Down Under: Root Cellar Update

It's been a long time coming, but In the Night Farm's root cellar is nearly complete.

The big hole, dug nearly two years ago with the help of a generous neighbor's backhoe, now features an underground room lined with shelves. Many of the shelves (which still need to be bolted to the walls) are vented to provide air flow beneath root crops like onions, sweet potatoes, and Yukon Golds.

Yes, potatoes! Many believe these to be a less-than-primal food (and I haven't eaten a white potato in months), but homegrown taters are a sensible indulgence I'm more than willing to enjoy. If you've never tried them, you must! They're as different from commercially grown potatoes as are garden tomatoes from those supermarket imposters.

There's also plenty of space, down here in the humid chill, to hang herbs, store sealed packages of dried fruit from the apricot tree and tomato vines, and cluster jars of home-canned dills. We might even throw in a few bottles of wine.

The walls are reinforced, the cracks sealed, the tin ready to go on the roof...and it's time to start filling in the hole. Now, there's a primal workout I've looked forward to! Really. Digging in the dirt, particularly with a real goal in mind, is tremendously satisfying. Ask any kid.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

(Tardy) Tuesday Tallies: Primal Menus & Movement

It's time again for my occasional answer to the frequent questions: "What do you eat?" and "How do you work out?"

(Yes, I know it's Wednesday. I was busy yesterday.)

Sunday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: 3 eggs over easy with onions, peppers, avocado, and hot sauce. Bacon. Apple.

Lunch: Didn't need it. Besides, I was out riding. I had a few brazil nuts when I got back.

Dinner: Ground beef and sweet potato curry. Blueberries with coconut milk and 1/2 oz 98% chocolate.

Sunday's Workout: Playday! Rode 26 miles. For those unfamiliar with good equitation, riding a horse well takes about the same level of effort as walking briskly.

Monday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: Spinach salad with steamed carrots and broccoli, canned wild salmon, pecans, olive oil, and vinegar.

Lunch: Ground beef and sweet potato curry.

Dinner: Bunless cheeseburger with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Steamed brussels sprouts with butter. Strawberries with coconut milk.

Monday's Workout: 3x rotation of pistols, decline pushups, Turkish getups, close-grip pushups, planks, and chinups.

Tuesday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: IF (15 1/2-hour intermittent fast, broken at 1:00pm)

Lunch: Spinach salad with steamed carrots and green beans, alfalfa sprouts, canned wild salmon, walnuts, olive oil, and vinegar. And a bit of smoked salmon someone brought to the office to share.

Snack: Strawberries and half a banana with coconut milk.

Dinner: Ground beef and sweet potato curry. Cottage cheese with avocado.

Tuesday's Workout: 5x backsquats, renegade rows, bench presses, and military presses

Wednesday's Food as Fuel

Breakfast: Spinach salad with alfalfa sprouts, steamed carrots and green beans, canned wild salmon, cashews, olive oil and vinegar.

Lunch: Italian tuna salad (tuna, sundried tomatoes, black olives, artichokes, oil and vinegar, oregano and pepper) and 2 hardboiled eggs.

Dinner: Small steak. Brussels sprouts with butter. Strawberries with coconut milk.

Wednesday's workout: Rest day.

Note that I've thrown in a bit more carbohydrate than in the past (except on the rest day). I'm moving up from about 65g/day to about 85g, as my energy expenditure is higher now that we have more daylight down on the farm. I was getting a bit fried at the lower carb level, but I think I've found the right balance again.

I love understanding (or at least, getting closer to understanding) what's going on with my body -- and how to manipulate it for maximum performance!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coconut Fried Plantains

Here's an easy, 100% primal dessert I've been serving lately as part of my commitment to reintroduce a reasonable quantity of carbohydrate to my diet. (More on that in an upcoming post.) A whole, medium plantain contains about 60 grams of carbs, but just a quarter of a fruit fried up in healthful coconut makes a remarkably satisfying, barely-sweet end to a meal.

The medium-chain fatty acids and monoglycerides in coconut oil are widely credited with health benefits ranging from enhanced longevity to fat loss to anti-viral impact to the elimination of candida.

Tropical Traditions is a good source of quality coconut oil. Get on their e-mailing list for a steady stream of notifications about excellent deals on their products.

Coconut Fried Plantains

1 medium plantain, peeled and cut lengthwise, then width-wise into quarters
1/2 cup unsweetened, dessicated coconut
2 Tbs coconut oil
1 cup coconut cream
Dash of cinnamon

Melt coconut oil in the bottom of a glass bread pan. Roll each plantain quarter in the oil, then in the dessicated coconut to coat generously. Return plantain quarters to pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until coconut is well toasted. Serve each plantain quarter on a small plate with 1/4 cup coconut cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serves 4.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who Needs Lulus? (Or, How to Turn Your Ass from Sag to Sass)

Have you ordered your Lulus yet?

Apparently, they're all the rage among Crossfitters. Why? Because (in addition to being high-quality and high-comfort), Luluemon Athletica's pants are reputed to make even the most mundane female backside a head-turning exhibit at your local gym.

Which is great. I guess. If your backside is boring and you don't mind cheating in order to turn heads.

But who wants a Wizard of Oz butt? I mean, c'mon. Are those admiring looks really satisfying when you know, deep down inside, that your Luluemon tush is, behind the veil, a lemon? Who wants to worry about running into the gym guys at the grocery store, when your non-Lulued backside is waving its true colors behind your unsupportive slacks?

Talk about false advertising.

You want a real sassy ass, you're going to have to work for it. And don't give me that crap about being too old. The only reason we Westerners tend to lose muscle mass with age is that we get lazy. We expect to get soft. And weak. And unhealthy.

You do not have to lose muscle mass with age. At almost 32, I'm falling seriously behind on the bat-wing and saddle-bag curve that's practically required of women who've left their twenties in the dust. (Just try to find a scrap of fat dangling from my triceps. I dare you.) Similarly, Ironman, at 40, is regularly mistaken for a much younger guy. Why? He's lean and cut, and we're not used to seeing that on anyone over 30.

It's as simple as you've always heard, people: Use it, and you won't lose it.

But what if you've already lost muscle mass? Well, shut up griping and start doing something about it. You can build muscle whether you're ninety or nineteen, and whatever lean tissue you add will help keep you lean. The notion that metabolism must slow with age is a myth.

That's the good news. The bad news is that you do actually have to put some effort into achieving the backside of champions. Since it's we females who typically agonize over our butts -- resorting either to baggy sweats or Lulus to conceal or modify them -- this post is especially for women. (Guys who give a rat's ass what yours looks like: the concepts apply to you, too. Just keep away from the Lulus, k? K.)

Without further ado, here are four steps to a sassy ass. Guaranteed or your money back.

1. Diet

Yeah. Sorry girls, but nutrition is the single, biggest factor in leanness. If you want a perky butt, you're going to have to get rid of the layer of fat that conceals the muscles beneath. (We'll talk about developing those muscles in a moment.)

Contrary to popular belief, undamaged dietary fats (not to be mistaken for the frankenfats that are rampant in processed foods) do not make us fat. Sugar makes us fat. All carbohydrate is, as far as the body is concerned, sugar. Some carbs (most notably, vegetables) are worth the tradeoff. Most (especially grains and sweeteners) are not. Clean up your diet ala the Primal Blueprint or Whole 30 Paleo, and watch your bodyfat vanish -- not to mention a host of other health problems.

Still in the does-not-compute phase? Watch the Lustig and Taubes videos for accessible explanations of the science.

2. Squat

Air squats, heavy squats, Tabata thrusters, pistols... Pick your favorite variety, start at whatever level you can, and do them. Lots of them. Work up to heavy squats, because that's where the real money is in terms of gluteal development. You want perky, you gotta squat.

In a typical week, I do several kinds of squats. Thrusters and air squats appear in metcon routines, pistols are a staple of my gymnastics/bodyweight days, and backsquats are my personal favorite among all the heavy, compound lifts.

Do your homework on form. You know all those aerobics instructors who warned never to squat past parallel for fear of wrecking your knees? They were wrong, k? Here's Mark Rippetoe on the subject of squat form. Rippetoe (literally) wrote the book on strength training.

3. Lunge

Ah, lunges. These suckers are my best friend and worst enemy. Done properly, they're hellishly hard...but do them properly, and your glutes will be heavenly hard.

I started out with walking or standing lunges 3-4 times per week -- first without weight, then with dumbbells in each hand, then with the dumbbells plus a backpack stuffed with 35 pounds of sand. (Hey, you use what you got.) 4-6 sets of as many reps as you can do while maintaining good form will do the job. These days, I barbell lunge up to 95 lbs for 5x5s (5 sets of 5 reps each).

As always, do your homework on form. Then work it. At first, you'll notice sore quads. But those will develop, and you'll start to feel the real work in your gluteal muscles. Be warned: heavy lunges can give you a seriously sore seat for a couple days! It's worth it. I have yet to find a better way to sculpt my butt.

4. Sprint

Sprinting is particularly useful for developing a shapely tush because it tones the muscles without adding a lot of bulk. (Depending on individual genetics, most women don't need to worry about excessive bulk anyway.) Rusty of Fitness Black Book discusses sprint form and butt benefits in this article. And we all know that sprinting offers myriad other rewards, not the least of which is the promotion of a hormonal response that leads to the burning of bodyfat for fuel.

There you go. Applied with consistency and commitment, the four steps above will turn your ass from sag to sass. Then you can buy LuLus and really rock 'em -- because you don't need them!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Anatomy of a Cheat

Y'all know by now that I'm not much of a cheater.

I like my primal straight up, thanks. I'll have a bit of dairy, but that's it. No sneaks from the office candy bowl. No toast with my eggs. No rice with stir fry or tortillas with fajitas or Pepsi on the sly. I'm too in love with my leanness, strength, and energy to risk it over a mouthful of sweet or starchy poison.

And yet, once in a blue moon, I do plan a major cheat. I hate that term, by the way, because it implies that the "cheater" is committing a mortal sin or losing control, rather than making an informed choice to eat something he or she normally avoids.

There's no real harm in a very-occasional , non-primal indulgence. (Assuming you're not still working to fix a broken metabolism, in which case more caution is advisable.)

And so, as I do about three times per year, I brought home a take-and-bake pizza (half Hawaiian, half pepperoni) and a small carton of Moose Tracks. I enjoyed several slices of pizza and a bowl of ice cream, and felt, as I knew I would, like complete crap.

The ice cream in particular made me feel like I'd swallowed a bucketful of steak knives. It also exacerbated the mild sore throat with which I'd been contending all afternoon. It was tasty, though!

I drank lots of water to combat the carb-induced water retention and went to bed smiling at myself, knowing that I was experiencing exactly what I was supposed to.

The next morning, I woke up looking reasonably lean -- about normal, but slightly puffy and less visibly cut in the abs. I had some leftover pizza for breakfast, in response to which my stomach made its displeasure known. A bit more ice cream reintroduced the sore throat and mucousy sinuses, which had resolved overnight. Note to self: Do not plan cheats for days your immune system is already working overtime.

Then, I went about my day, ignoring the lactose-, lectin-, and gluten-induced discomfort that persisted for hours. Unable to train horses or do farm work due to abysmal weather (horizontal sleet, anyone?), I drove to town and poked about in the thrift stores, where I scored a 5.5' x 3' wall mirror for my home gym.

Anyway. While I was in town, I bought (primal) groceries. I wandered around Home Depot, plotting future projects. I took my time. And I didn't get hungry.

I came home. Lifted heavy for almost an hour. Set a personal best on back squats. Wrapped up in an Aussie duster and fed the livestock in a driving rainstorm. Warmed up with a mug of spearmint tea. Didn't get hungry.

By 8:00, I still hadn't eaten and reckoned there wasnt' any need to. I went to bed looking lean and feeling strong (if still a bit queasy) and pleasantly satisfied with my body's apparent ability to make the best of a nasty shock.

As I understand it, a primal-adapted body, that is, one that is insulin-sensitive and accustomed to accessing fat for fuel, can endure -- and even benefit from -- an occasional influx of carbs. Yes, yes, such influx should typically be free of gluten and added sugar. Believe me, I know.

Faced with a rush of starch and sugar, my liver arranged neat chains of glycogen molecules to be harvested at will for the satisfaction of the parts of my brain and other tissues that prefer glucose as fuel. Excess glycogen was shuttled away to my muscle cells, where insulin rang the doorbell so my sensitive insulin receptors could admit as much fuel as possible. When my liver and muscle glycogen stores were both full, all extra energy was stored in my fat cells for later use.

Thanks to my fat-adapted metabolism -- the product of months of low-carb, adequate-protein, high-fat eating -- all that stored fuel was ready and waiting to meet energy needs long after my stomach emptied. Those bolstered fat cells emptied right back out.

And, as an added bonus, I enjoyed a reboot in leptin sensitivity, which resulted in visibly-improved leanness within 48 hours post-cheat. (Basically, leptin is a hormone that encourages the burning of stored bodyfat.) Under normal circumstances, I achieve this without the nasty side effects of grain and sugar-laden dairy by consuming a bi-weekly boost of primal carbs such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, fruit, or plantains.

And oh, those side effects are nasty indeed. Three days and two 16+ hour intermittent fasts passed before I felt completely normal again. It doesn't matter whether you fall off the wagon or jump off by choice -- the ground is just as hard!

I'm glad to be back on the straight and narrow for the foreseeable future. After all, the primal straight and narrow is a pretty satisfying place:


See this fascinating thread on the MDA forum for additional detail on how the body handles carbohydrate, as well as a variety of other topics.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Strawberry and Avocado Salad with Chile-Lime Dressing

Here's a simple one -- a springy side dish with bright colors, contrasting textures, and interesting flavors. Drizzle the extra dressing over an accompanying piece of grilled chicken.

Strawberry and Avocado Salad with Chile-Lime Dressing

4 cups fresh baby spinach
8 fresh strawberries, quartered
1 avocado, sliced into eighths

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/8 tsp salt

Combine dressing ingredients in blender and emulsify. Chill dressing. Arrange 2 strawberries and 2 slices avocado atop 1 cup of spinach on each of four plates. Dress salad immediately before serving. Serves 4.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Make Way for Ducklings

I let the ducklings out of their nursery on Saturday. They now have the run of the indoor section of the main duck pen (but not the outdoor duck playground, which isn't cat-safe). The indoor section is about 12' x 5', mostly covered, with plenty of shelter from the wind. And, it's adjacent to the nursery pen so the ducklings can still get under their heat lamp as necessary.

They're huge already! At only about 2 weeks of age, they have more than quadrupled in size, and the 16 of them plow through over a quart of 20% protein flock-raiser mash daily. I have to play close attention to their water supply, too, as they must have it to keep their bills clear of debris, and they splash and drink plenty.

Here they are exploring the new digs. They particularly enjoyed the few tufts of grass that survived the duck-pen construction project.

Ironman has left town for a few weeks. (He has a cooler job than I do.) By the time he gets home, the first of the Pekin drakes will be nearly ready for slaughter. I've never cooked duck before, but understand it must be done properly for good results. Time to start reading up on the subject -- I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Progress, Plateau, and Progress Again

[Continued from Part One and Part Two in response to this Reader Question about primal workouts.]

I finally got an update photo taken to go with the continuation of my reply to reader Rebekah, who asked for specifics regarding my primal workout plan. This shot is from April 4, 2010 -- it's not great, but you get the idea:

If you've been reading for a while and have a very good memory, you might recall that I started doing primal workouts about 13 months ago, well before I'd even heard of the primal blueprint. I didn't have much equipment, but I had plenty of determination and enough creativity to turn bodyweight and interval work into a very effective training program.

But you know us overachievers. Never satisfied, are we? I wanted heavier things to lift! I also wanted more energy with which to lift them...and my long-enjoyed flegan diet wasn't cutting it anymore. I began looking for solutions to my slow recoveries and frequent stomach bloating. You can read about my transition to primal here.

Going primal -- I was nearly 100% compliant by late August, 2009 -- gave my training program a major shot in the arm. After enduring an extended low-carb flu (6 weeks, presumably due to my formerly heavy reliance on carb-laden grains and legumes for the bulk of my caloric intake), I emerged stronger, faster, and more energetic than ever.

But I still needed heavy things. Stacking hay is great, but you can't do it every day. The beasties just don't eat that much! I needed iron. Finally, in late December, I bought it. My Christmas present to myself was an Olympic barbell set, squat rack, plate rack, curl bar, and the necessary accessories.

My workouts, which had moved indoors for the winter, underwent a significant shift. My late 2009 workouts were built around metabolic conditioning (Tabata and other types of intervals, usually "prison style" due to limited space and freezing weather) plus bodyweight/gymnastics work such as decline pushups, pullups, and HLRs. Once my barbell set came home, however, my schedule transitioned to something like this:

Day 1: Heavy
6x rotation of back squats pull-ups, bench presses, weighted HLRs, weighted dips, and military presses

Day 2: Gymnastics
6x rotation of pistols(aka one-legged squats), decline push-ups, pull-ups, L-sits, weighted step-ups, close-grip push-ups, planks and side planks.

Day 3: Sprints or Metcon

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: Heavy
6x rotation of barbell lunges, chin-ups, deadlifts, bent-over barbell rows, weighted calf raises, and renegade rows.

Day 6: Gymnastics

Day 7: Sprints or Metcon

Day 8: Rest

Pop Quiz: What is wrong with this picture?

Gradually, I did less metcon and more heavy lifting and gymnastics. Gradually, my performance peaked...and plateaued...and dropped. Gradually, mild fatigue set in and I lost enthusiasm for training. Gradually, my sleep patterns became disturbed.

Yeah. I was flirting with overtraining.

Okay, okay. It spent the night.

In early March, faced with minor but unresolved pain in my left knee and resolutely mediocre performance, I took a week off. A whole week! (Oh, the mental anguish!) It was my first rest of more than two, consecutive days since September, when Ironman and I took an active vacation to compete in a multi-day equine endurance race.

After my week off, I spent another two weeks working my way back into a regular, amended schedule involving more rest -- and also a few more primal carbs, which now come in around 85 instead of 65 grams on the average day.

I'm still in flux, accommodating increased farm work now that we have more daylight hours, but my enthusiasm has returned. My strength is burgeoning, too. I set a couple PRs last week. I'm leaner than ever. Climbing again.


I think there's a bit more going on here than overtraining. Just over a year into general physical preparedness training, and roughly 4 months in to my heavy lifting program, I believe I am teetering on the brink between "novice" and "intermediate." (Check out this fantastic reference.) My gains are starting to slow. I'm forced to work smarter, not just harder. As the weight goes up, so must my time spent in recovery.

About the abs: I like 'em. Some people seem to find them unfeminine, which is okay with me. They're entitled to their own, lousy opinion. ;) I've always said that I'd rather be athletic than classically beautiful.

Anyway, it has been my experience that weighted core work is responsible for the "6-pack" definition. I do renegade rows with 15 lb dumbbells, HLRs with 15 lbs between my ankles, situps with a 35 lb plate held overhead, and Turkish get-ups with a 12 lb dumbbell.

On post-workout nutrition: While leaning out, I found that skipping PWO food intake was an easy way to take advantage of the release of human growth hormone and maximize fat burning. However, a person can get too lean for optimum performance. I've found that, when increasing strength is my primary goal, I need to eat within about half an hour PWO. A little full-fat cottage cheese and fruit, or sweet potato roasted in coconut oil, goes a long way toward enhancing recovery.

On weight: I weigh myself about once a quarter. It's always fascinating -- but never so much as this last time, when I discovered that I've gained 12 pounds since last April. At 5'3", I'm up from 110 to 122. Wow! That represents a massive shift in body composition, from fat to lean, considering I had to buy a new professional wardrobe in January because all my suits were way too big!

I'd love to know my bodyfat percentage, but alas, I haven't a clue -- nor much faith in any of the usual measurement methods. C'est la vie.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Eats for Non-Primal Peeps

Can it be Easter already?

The last few days at In the Night Farm have featured howling winds and rain mixed with snow, the biting sort of weather that turns the horses like weather vanes, tails against the gusts, backs hunched and heads lowered as if to pray for summer's haste.

It may not have felt like spring, but indoors, a primal Easter feast was underway. Because we're running late this year on butchering, I didn't serve the usual leg of lamb and fancy trimmings. Instead, I took it easy with this simple, Mexican-influenced menu that left plenty of time for socializing with my (non-primal) guests:

Steamed Crudites with Adobo Yogurt Sauce;

Garlic Pulled Pork, a recent cookbook-contest winner from Mark's Daily Apple;

Bacon Stuffed Anaheim Peppers, since the store didn't have large jalapenos for my recipe;

Strawberry and Avocado Salad with Chile-Lime Dressing; and,

Coconut Fried Plantains

And wine, of course.

I love creating satisfying, primal meals for non-primal guests. Include plenty of interesting colors, flavors and textures, and most people will never notice the absence of sugar and grain.

Happy Easter to all, and to all a good night! (Did I mention we had wine?)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Poultry To Go

Check out this portable poultry coop:

I found it on CraigsList. The seller wanted $150.00, which seems a fair price when you figure in materials and labor, but Ironman and I are going to build our own using this as a model.

The dimensions, as posted in the ad, are 9 feet, 9 inches in length, 4 foot base width, and 30 inch height. I imagine it's fairly heavy, and indeed the ad states that the seller moves it around with a tractor. No problem there; it just so happens that I have a tractor.

The primary purpose of the portable coop, as anyone who has read Michael Pollan's excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma will know, is to be able to move your birds safely around the farm so they can forage for fresh plants, insects, grubs, and whatever else they fancy.

You know, real food. The things poultry was designed to eat, instead of the grain-based, packaged feeds that practicality demands for the bulk of their calories. When the chickens and ducks eat real food, the eggs they lay show up on our table with a proper balance of nutrients. That's a prize worth the investment of a bit of time spent with a screwdriver and staple gun.

And, there's another advantage. Ironman and I have been wondering for a while what would be the best way to house the guinea fowl we'd like to introduce to the gardens of In the Night Farm.

Squash bugs and grasshoppers have been a real problem in years past, and we're loathe to use poisons to control them. Chickens will gladly consume the pests -- but they'll scratch up the plants in the process. Not good.

Guinea fowl, however, are reportely excellent garden hunters that snap up insects without harming the crop. They can also be quite loud when disturbed -- but we figure that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Out here in the the country, it's nice to get a heads-up when someone drops by.

Thing is, one buys guineas as tiny and defenseless keets that should be raised near the area in which you intend them to spend most of their time as adults. Constructed using a tighter wire weave than was chosen by the Craigslist seller, our portable poultry coop should make a suitable guinea nursery before returning to its usual duties.

Ah, the projects. They never end. But then, neither do their rewards.

Related Posts
Practically Impossible, The Challenge of Sustainable Living

Friday, April 2, 2010

Slow-Cooked Carne Asada and Bacon Stuffed Jalapenos

Let's face it: primal eating can be a bit pricey. Back in my flegan days, I filled up on beans and grains from the bulk section -- cheap and easy, but sky high in carbohydrate and antinutrients. These days, I keep my eyes open for inexpensive cuts of meat and tasty ways to prepare them.

In my corner of Idaho, we have a large Hispanic population, and carne asada (the unseasoned kind, just thinly sliced, tough beef) is usually available. I picked up a large package the other day and spent a grand total of about 10 minutes preparing this dish. The stuffed jalapenos made a delicious, if somewhat less economical, side.

Slow-Cooked Carne Asada

2 lbs carne asada
1 large, yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 (4 oz) cans diced green chiles
1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1-2 jalapenos, chopped (seeds included)
2 Tbs chili powder
2 Tbs oregano
2 Tbs cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in slow cooker with beef on the bottom. (There's no need to pre-brown the meat.) Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours, until meat is tender and easily shredded with two forks. Serves 6.

Bacon Stuffed Jalapenos

8 large jalapeno peppers
1 (8 oz) package full-fat cream cheese
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
8 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

Halve and seed the jalapenos, and place them in a glass baking dish. Mix together cheeses and bacon. Stuff jalapeno halves with cheese mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, or until peppers are tender and filling is browned on top.

Note: Want an appetizer for your primal Mexican meal? Sliced jicama makes a great substitute for chips when dipping up guacamole. (And it pleases the low-fat crowd, too, which is handy for parties.)