“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”

Voltaire

The following is a paraphrased question from a TTP reader, Clay, regarding endurance athletes and adherence to a Paleo-like diet in general, and the TTP fitness lifestyle in particular:

Hey Keith,
I really like your blog and have been following it and a few other Paleo type blogs (De Vany etc.) for a couple of months now. I am pretty new to the whole Paleo style of eating and have had my ups and downs with it, but I have decided to give it a real try. I’m 49yrs and unfortunately I just tore a meniscus in my knee : (

I see you are a fixie rider and have mentioned mountain biking a few times in your blog as well as Dirt Rag magazine, I’m pretty much a cycling geek and wanted to ask about your thoughts on eating paleo and the whole cycling thing in general and mountain biking in particular. It seems most people eating this way are into heavy strength training and sprinting and Art De Vany seems to really believe that any cardio over an hour is unhealthy. So it seems to me that fixie riding and/or single speed mountain biking would really fit the fractal type of thing, De Vany talks about. Seeing as hills are random and with one gear you know you are going from super easy to super hard and everything in between. The problem for me besides my injured knee (I’m using all the gears I can find right now),  is I like to get out in the woods on my bike and ride several hours, two hours at the very least. Also the last few years when it’s warm, I have commuted on my bike a few times a week (40 miles round trip) Do you think this is really unhealthy and or injurious? Any ideas for incorporating cycling into a paleo life style? (I know the easy answer is fixie sprints and an hour ride once in a while, but I would actually like to ride a little more then that ha ha). Maybe it’s just a trade off?


I lift weights as well, but nothing on the level that you are at, it is mostly things I can do with dumb bells although I have gotten stronger then I have been in a long time. Anyway, sorry for the rambling, confused e-mail, but it seemed like too much stuff for the comments section.
Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.


Again-Great Blog!!

My short answer here, as many of you will undoubtedly expect, is that I consider endurance work much more a detriment to, rather than a positive influence upon, health and overall fitness. That said, though, I do feel like we all need to live our lives as we see most fulfilling – for both our spiritual and our psychological health — and if that happens to include some (or an abundance of) endurance activities, well — so be it. It’s hard for me to cast stones at someone for engaging in endurance work even as I’m enjoying my daily coffee, nightly beer (occasionally) and/or wine (most every night). What I would suggest, though, is an up-front and informed acknowledgment of, and an attempted mitigation of, those known negatives. In other words, tighten-up on the things you are willing to control. Training wise (if you’re an endurance athlete), this could be as simple as incorporating more sprint intervals in your overall workout plan, vice simply tallying-up extended road miles.

I have found that, though I rarely (actually, this is one of those instances where I really can say “never”) train for endurance activities, on those rare occasions when I do perform in the endurance realm, I always do surprisingly well – even against those who train exclusively for endurance – and even in spite of my more muscular, sprinter’s build. I’ll never win a triathlon, that’s for sure, but I can hold my own on extended mountain and road bike outings. This is due, I’m convinced, to the extensive conditioning base I’ve built via performing short duration, high-intensity sprint intervals. And, I don’t suffer unnecessarily, either – no “bonk” or “low blood sugar shakes” that I see exhibited in others — even as compared to those who’ve trained for endurance. People are amazed that I can “hang” on long, tough rides without continually sucking down energy drinks and other high carb crap during and post-ride. Old paradigms and habits die hard, though, (and in the athletic comunity, especially), and the “high carb is best” diet, along with the “slow and extended, rack-up the miles” training regimens prevail.

Actually, what I would suggest to Clay, or any endurance athlete for that matter, is in many ways what I would suggest to any athlete who still thinks that the high carb or extended workout regimen is the best of methodologies, and that is this: try the Paleo/TTP way for a year – what have you got to loose? Now, if you’re going out and continually smoking the competition handily with your current regimen, then just disregard my suggestion (as if I needed to tell you that 🙂  I’ll be willing to bet, though, that you’re either not performing to the level that you feel that you ought to, or that your health is in some way suffering. My own example of this was a chronic, unexplained elevated blood pressure and a bit of a “soft” look in my abdominal and lower back area — the last holdings-on of a thin, subcutaneous fat layer that never would seem to go away, no matter how stringent I was (and believe me, I am, if noting else, a man of discipline!). Also – and this may just be purely coincidental, but I’ll throw it out there anyway – I had a small but irksome wart on my index right finger that lingered for years and had withstood all manner of treatment (even nitrogen freezing), but fell off completely (never to return) after I’d been 3 months Paleo. After about 6 months of my new, “TTP” lifestyle, my blood pressure stabilized at a normal 120/80.  Lately, it’s trended even lower than that.  Of course, the abdominal and lower back fat vanished almost immediately after adopting the lifestyle.

Dr. Loren Cordain advises endurance athletes consume a Paleo-like diet, albeit with a higher percentage of (and amount, too, obviously) of tuber starches (sweet potatoes are a good choice).  My own suggestion is (1) cut down on both the overall training mileage and overall training time, and replace that with more sessions of high-intensity sprint intervals, and (2) simply increase the overall calorie intake (it really won’t require much) of protein and especially fat.  If I were actually a competitive athlete, I’d make “the switch” immediately following the competitive season so as to give the body time to convert (or remember how, actually) to be a fat burner prior to the start of the next season.

I really do think that it is just a matter of time before competitive athletes of all stripes buy into the Paleo way.  The competitive advantage gained by following this diet (and I say “diet” for lack of a better term) is just too hard to ignore.



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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I have noticed an increased ability to do “endurance” type activities – I can do them better and longer – now that I’ve switched. If I do any jogging (v. sprinting), which isn’t much these days, I don’t feel nearly as horrible as pre-Paleo, and my sprints on a treadmill are done at a much faster rpm and for longer than ever before.

    Keeping your exercise to under an hour has to do with the stress you end up placing on your body. Oxidation and other processes start to do damage – it is a case of diminishing (or even reversing) returns. Mark Sisson has posted on this as well. If you like the longer sessions, perhaps keep them a little shorter or incorporate some sprinting in with some very low intensity stuff – rather than strenuous 2 hour sessions do a 30 minute sprint warm-up and then just tool around for pleasure. Or perhaps, if you really need that long session, don’t do it as often. I’ve got to think that PaleoMan had random days where he had to do some longer sessions of continuous hard work – maybe the shelter got wrecked or there were TWO buffalo to carve up. Whatever. I think there are ways to keep that in your routine without doing too much damage.

    What do you think, Keith?

  2. Well, I agree with everything you said. I do a fair amount of triathlons, including two Ironmans, Florida in November was most recent. So, I often feel the need to defend my participation in long distance events like triathons and marathons in fitness circles. 🙂

    Here’s the thing, if you are just trying to get into shape and look good, don’t do marathons and triathlons or any long steady cardio for that matter, unless you enjoy it. I believe endurance sports are just that, sports. And, sports are not healthy for you. You aren’t playing basketball to build functional strength and to lose fat, or shouldn’t be, so don’t choose marathons for fitness either. Golf, basketball, football, triathlons, bike races, bodybuilding … these just aren’t healthy things for your body.

    Building functional strength and a nice looking healthy body via a Paleo lifestyle and workout can be done along with, or in spite of, the sports through which you choose to beat your self up. Doing functional exercises in the gym and eating Paleo will certainly benefit your mountain biking for the one fellow commenter. It will take time to become adapted, but once you do, you won’t bonk anymore, endurance is greatly improved. Greatly increasing fat intake and greatly reducing the refined carbs is the most important thing and endurance athlete can do in my opinion.

    Anyway, I follow a Paleo diet fairly strictly for the past year or so, including during training for my race at Ironman Florida. I have become a fat-burner and it definitely gives me an advantage over my sugar burning friends, as they run out and I don’t. My endurance has improved dramatically and my running has never been better. I’m 6″3 210 pounds and I ran a 3:30 marathon at Myrtle Beach in Feb. During this time I increased the amount of fat I was getting and greatly reduced the amound of refined carbs and dairy. I’m noticebly leaner than I ever have been, although I still carry a lot of muscle, in spite of the endurance training.

    I also agree that adding in high intensity sprints, along with high intensity lifting via kettlebells is a great addition thing to engage in for anyone. I have recently gotten my wife to try them and she loves it. For building functional strength and even rehabbing old injuries, kettlebells are the best thing ever!

    Anyway, keep up the great posts, Keith. Perhaps we should get a Paleo bike riders club formed? 🙂 Also, if you happen to run across a fixie for a good price, please let me know. 🙂

  3. Hey thanks for all the advice Keith (and fellow readers).
    I am currently eating Paleo style and so far so good.
    Try it for a year? I think I will take that advice.
    Tho other thing that concerns me about the damage of extended cardio is that my son competes in high school cross country and track, and will be running for his college as well. Maybe if I have good results eating Paleo I can convert him as well.
    When the knee heals, I am thinking of riding my single speed mountain bike more, as that calls for more intense effort on the hills and usually shorter rides.
    In the winter it’s not that hard for me to go shorter on the bike and add more strength training, when it gets nicer though it might be a little tough to follow through. We’ll see, Ha, Ha!!
    Thanks again everyone.

    • Clay — I really think your son’s performance would improve on a Paleo diet, especially in light of what BC has added.

      BC — you’re right — there is a big difference between “competitive sport” and “health”; I know this all too well from my years in football. This is the life-balance (the balance of “optimal” with “real-life”) at work. As long as we go into our known “sub-optimals” with eyes wide open and attempt, where we can, to mitigate those negatives as much as practicable, we’ve done ourselves a huge service while still living our lives by what we determine as fulfilling.
      BYW, you can find some good fixies in the Raleigh Craig’s List (last time I checked, anyway). Or, if you have an old road bike hanging around, just convert it. Be warned, though — once you go fixie, you’ll never go back 🙂

      And what do you think about a “Team Caveman” in this year’s TdF? Maybe we can get Lance to convert and come on board? 🙂

      AT22 — Yeah, once again it’s that balance thing, knowing that there is a wide, wide range between what the body can survive, and what is optimal for health. In other words, can I survive a marathon? Yeah, probably (with massive suffering, I’m sure!). Is a marathon necessarily good for me? I don’t think so. Can I better survive a marathon by being in good health and maintaining adequate fitness? You bet.

  4. Hey again,

    What is your take on nuts? Do you avoid cashews? I know they aren’t a tree nut, which is all we’re supposed to eat. I dearly love cashews but fear they have some evil property that is going to sabotage my health. 🙂

    Also, I think DeVany still eats cheese from time to time? What do you think occasional dairy? Mark Sisson has heavy cream in his coffee for instance.

    Have you found that eliminating these helped? I have cut all grains, no alcohol, but still have some dairy like cheese and heavy cream. I still have that soft look you mention around my belly, especially just below my navel. Had it forever! I’m sure the added stress for the endurance training has something to do with it, but I’m wondering if cold turkey Paleo might be the thing I need to put me over the edge. : I sure will miss my cashews though. 🙂

    • I eat plenty and various types of raw nuts, though I try to avoid peanuts. I do, though, make an exception to my “peanut rule” when I’m watching my son’s baseball games (superstition and baseball go hand-in-hand, I’m afraid). The problem with roasted nuts is twofold, (1) the high roasting temperatures ruins the natural oils contained within the nuts, and (2) in order to get salt to stick to the roasted nuts, manufacturers will use cotton seed oil (or worse) in the process thereby imparting a double-whammy of bad oils. I guess a descending hierarchy of nut consumption would look like this: Raw>> dry roasted>>regular roasted.

      My peanut aversion, of course, stems from the fact that they produce a marked insulin response, due to the fact that peanuts are actually legumes. I haven’t seen anything about cashews that would give me real pause, other than the fact that their covering is toxic (in the same family as poison ivy, I believe) and, because of this, I do believe they have to be roasted. I do eat them, though in moderation.

      The only dairy I take in is cheese, and then it is usually only the very good stuff in which a little goes a long way. I treat it as I would a condiment or a flavor enhancer. I drink my coffee black (is there really any other way for a true connoisseur? 🙂 so cream isn’t an issue (though I think that used in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with its use).

      Now, I’m reluctant to come across as the “anti-endurance zealot”, but I do think that endurance events promote a whole cascade of negative hormonal responses that promote the shedding of type II (fast twitch) muscle fiber,and the maintenance of stubborn fat deposits (for males, this is typically the belly/lower back region). Just keep in mind that enzymes, hormones and gene expression are the trifecta that rule the bodily kingdom.

  5. Oh, I don’t think you are the anti-endurance guy at all. I totally agree that long-distance endurance sports are not healthy, and I can certainly see where stress, no matter physical or mental, and cortisol play a role in that fatty deposit area. I’m sure the long distance stuff is probably the main reason that the fat I have is still around. I’m also on an anti-depressant, which doesn’t help matters in that area either. Oh well, I’m screwed. 🙂

    Just kidding. Hopefully my Paleo diet will help offset the rest of the harm I’m doing to myself, physically and mentally. OK, off to meditate and do some sprints. 🙂

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