While talking with a client the other day I was explaining why I like to work with athletes so much. I love helping anyone and everyone, but the athletic population is of particular interest to me. It (obviously) has to do with the fact that I am an athlete myself, but in addition to that it is because the “ancestral athlete” can struggle just as much as the person who has diabetes and wants to loose weight, or the person who has an autoimmune condition and is trying to heal themselves with an ancestral approach to life. The good news is that there is a lot of information out there for the person looking to loose weight or someone trying to heal an autoimmune condition. There is not so much information out there for the ancestral athlete.
It can be very hard for an athlete who is trying to perform at their sport, have a family, have a full time job, and be healthy to be successful using the traditional ancestral approach that you will find out there on the internet. Why? Well, because we are a minority, we are not the biggest group of people. Unfortunately, there are far more people in this world who are battling the many problems associated with a western diet and lifestyle than there are athletes trying to use an ancestral approach to health to excel in life.
The influencers in the ancestral space are therefore putting out information that will have an impact for the largest group of people and not the athlete. Athletes new to this space often get lost in the mix. They hear things like the following:
- Everyone should intermittent fast and if you want to be a real champ, do fasted workouts.
- You only need to eat 2 meals a day
- Carbs are the devil because they spike insulin
- 0.5g of protein per pound of lean body mass is plenty
- Protein causes cancer
- A constant need to restrict calories (again because the influencers in this space are speaking to the overweight majority)
Now lets put that in perspective for an athlete
- Working out 1-3 hrs a day
- Most, if not all, of these workouts are fasted
- Restricting carbs and protein because they are afraid of the “health consequences”
- Because they are practicing intermittent fasting they are eat only 2 meals a day
- At those meals they are eating a ton of vegetables and possibly fat, but very little in the way of much else
Now lets take a look at the typical athlete working 9-5 with a family.
- Wakes up at 5AM to get in their workout
- Rushes around in the morning to get the family ready
- In the office from 9-5, mostly sedentary bombarded by artificial light
- Eats their first meal at noon or maybe skips it because work is too busy. If they do eat, it is not in a sympathetic state
- Commute home at 5
- Spends a few hours with the family, dealing with family stress, etc.
- Eats dinner (potentially their only proper meal of the day)
- Opens the laptop to wrap up some work
- In bed by 10-11PM to start everything over again
Do you see a problem yet?
This athlete’s diet contains a ton of restriction, everything from protein and carbs to calories. There is a whole lot of stress, from food and caloric restriction, to fasting, to family and work stress. There is potential circadian rhythm disruption with the early morning workouts, late night work, and lack of sleep. There is a lack of movement, outside of training, and lack of sunlight due to being inside all day long.
As much as I think that ancestral health is great, it can’t protect you from everything. What is a healthy practice for one person (ie fasted “workouts” and carb restriction) may be detrimental to an athlete pushing their limits.
What Happens When Ancestral Health Goes Wrong
The athlete I describe above, was essentially what I was doing in 2016, and it didn’t turn out good. Here are some labs to back that up.
Besides these labs results I had other measures something was wrong as well. My sleep was terrible, I would wake up multiple times a night and rarely got a refreshing nights rest. After workouts I was completely drained. I was pretty much useless the rest of the day. My overall mood was terrible, I had no patience.
Context Is Everything!!
It is important for everyone when digesting a piece of content to put some context around what is being said. You might find some content that addresses very specific populations, but most of the content has no context around it. So when you hear someone say that you should have a 8 hour eating window (meaning you are not eating the other 18 hours of the day), is that feasible for you? If you are an Ironman triathlete and training 2-3 hours a day, the answer should be a resounding NO because it is just not possible to take in enough food in 8 hours! You need to take into context the advice and if/when it should be applied to your life. Am I saying as an athlete you can never do an 18 hr fast? No. There might be situations where life presents you with a situation where an 18hr fast is OK. However, should you be fasting for 18 hours 7 days a week while trying to train for an Ironman, most likely not.
The next time you hear someone giving advice on any topic, don’t just apply it blindly to your life, look at the complete picture and ask yourself if it make sense for YOU. It can often times be very hard to make this decision and that is where someone like me can help. An objective opinion of another fellow athlete who has made these mistakes before can be invaluable as someone who is trying to perform their best in all aspects of life. If you are interested in talking about how I might be able to help book your FREE discovery call with me now.