Why Does This Paleo Thing Work?

So you have made the decision to give the paleo diet a try in your attempt to become THE FITTEST IN THE FORREST, and now you want to know what is going on differently inside you body?  That is a fair question that could be answered many different ways.  I’ll give you the short answer… Ketosis.  Before I discuss what exactly Ketosis is, I am going to tell you a story and also remind everyone that I am not a Biochemist, I do not play a Biochemist on TV, and I did not stay in a Holiday Inn last night.  If you like to get geeky and really dig biochemistry, Dr. Michael Eads, M.D. (the author of The Protein Power Life Plan) has a great web site, http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/ketones-and-ketosis/metabolism-and-ketosis/   that discuses Ketosis as well as many other topics. 

I first learned about Ketosis 3 years ago while attending a Crossfitendurance certification.  The word Ketosis was not used, but the ketogenic process was described.  I had been Crossfitting for about a year.  I did not have an affiliate anywhere near me at the time and during much of this first year I was deployed to Iraq.  I spent hours on the Crossfit website trying to learn as much as I could about the program.  After several months I started to realize that a huge piece of the Crossfit road to health was diet.  I was an avid endurance athlete prior to finding Crossift and I ate what I thought was pretty healthy…a huge bowl of cereal with a banana for breakfast, a couple sandwiches for lunch, a granola bar for a snack, and some meat and rice or pasta for dinner.  Like most people, I was initially extremely resistant to a Zone or Paleo diet, thinking there is no way you can get enough carbohyrdates to run a marathon.  I did some more reading and began to think maybe there was a way it would work, but was not willing to make any major changes just yet.  Going back to where I started this story, I attended the Crossfitendurance certification about 1 month after I got home from deployment.  The head Crossfitendurance coach, Brian MacKenzie, put enormous emphasis on nutrition.  He explained that when you reduce your carbohydrate intake, decrease body fat, and increase your fat intake, fat will become the body’s primary energy source and that fat is way more effcient than glucose (carbs).  He talked about running ultra marathons on the low carb diet and how performance increased when fat became the primary energy source.  At that point, I was sold.  I made some major changes and experimented with a new diet.  Long story short, all my workouts improved, I got stronger and leaner, ran one of my best marathons, and felt healthier than I ever had. 

So now you may be wondering what that story has to do with you.  Your body using fat as the primary energy source instead of glucose is the plain English definition of Ketosis.   I am going to go geeky for 2 sentences here so fasten your seat belts.  When carbohydrates are restricted (lower than the standard American diet) your liver uses fat for energy to convert protein to glucose and produces a byproduct known as Ketones.  These Ketones then fuel the heart, brain, and other tissues.  Okay, that’s it for the science, you survived.  The biggest take away from this whole blog should be Ketosis occurs when carbohydrates are reduced and the result is fat becomes the body’s primary energy source. 

The next question is usually “how long will it take for my body to start burning fat and will I feel like crap while in transition?”  The answer to both these questions varies by athlete.  For most people it takes anywhere from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks for their bodies to convert to using fat as the primary energy source.  Some people feel weak and tired during the initial conversion; some feel strong throughout the whole process.  Bottom line, the only way to find out is to give the Paleo diet a try for 30 days.  If you feel a little off at first, that is your body transitioning to Ketosis.  Frequently cheating in the first 30 days will only delay the process and prevent you from receiving all the great benefits from a Ketogenic diet. 

Keep working hard in the gym and let’s see who the Fittest in the Forrest really is!