Trying to find the ideal diet for me had led me to several diet options. Basic bodybuilding bulking and cutting diets, high protein/low carb diets, grainless diets and restrictive GI/Gl diets. Then there were Primal (by Mark Sisson, Primal Blueprint) and the Slow Carb diet (by Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Body). These two sparked my interest most.
My basic goals are quite common; lose fat, build muscle, be healthy and eat whatever I want. Easy, right? I found it can be, as long as you know the how and why of these four pillars. At least, how they work for me and my life. Although all of our bodies are quite similar, most of our lives are quite different. Meaning, you can’t all eat at the times you like to eat or you don’t have access to the foods you want to eat or you have a different background (cultural as well as how I was raised and what the psychological imprints I have about food because of that).
Pillar 1, lose fat
For men, the ideal percentage of body fat is about 15 to 20 percent, depending on your activity level. For women, this would be 20 to 25 (or even 30) percent. When you generally live healthy, don’t eat too much, you’ll normally have these levels of body fat. For me, I strive to have in the range of 8 to 10 percent fat. This being somewhat below the aforementioned 15 percent, I need to adjust my food and metabolism to burn this excess fat and keep burning enough of it to not be storing any new fat. The basics solution is to cut down on carbohydrates. If you eat below 150 grams of carbs your body burns fat. Keep it below 100 grams and fat is burnt fast as your body goes in a special state called ketosis. However, it is essential you eat enough fat to keep your energy level high, so that your muscles aren’t being metabolized (meaning, burnt as energy). Some carbs are ok to eat. These can be qualified as slow carbs or carbs with a low glycemic index.
Pillar 2, build muscle
Muscles are built out of three basic components, protein, glycogen and water. Also a little fat and a lot of smaller components are used, but I’ll stick to the basic three. In order to build muscle you need to give your body enough protein. A lot of people do not know this, but protein is actually the least abundant component of muscles. Carbs are the building blocks for glycogen. And water, well, is water. The thing that has me most dumbfounded is the amount of calories needed to properly build muscles. Classic bodybuilding says you need to eat 1000 or more calories in surplus to build proper muscles. By now, I disagree. Give your body a little more protein and exercise properly and that will build muscle. A human muscle contains about 1200 calories per kilo. In order to gain 5 kilos in muscle in a year, you need 6000 calories. That would be 500 a month, or about 20 calories a day. That’s not much, is it? Truth be told, you need something extra for energy you body uses for repairing the muscle after working out, but eating 6000 calories a day, although it might build muscle faster, will actually (for me at least) create much more fat than the extra muscle is worth. I’d rather build muscle more slowly and not have to worry about burning excessive amounts of fat afterwards than to build muscle faster and losing some while trying to burn the fat. In a years’ time, the net result will be the same, but when you build muscle more slowly, they will stay on longer. Also, you won’t change in clothing size as much, and you will look good all year round, instead of just in the summer.
Pillar 3, be healthy
This is easy. 80% of how you look and feel is a result of what you eat. Like I stated in the introduction, there are a lot of different views on what is healthy eating. The basics always remain the same. Drink enough water. Don’t drink calories. Eat whole foods. Don’t eat refined carbs. Also, don’t smoke, drink or do drugs.
Everyone has to figure out for themselves what works best in the particular foods they eat. Some people don’t like certain foods, some are allergic to certain foods and some don’t have access to some types of foods. For me, the following eating habits have the best results (the best results being physical well being combined with feeling good about what I eat without cravings), although I don’t exactly follow these habits right now for several reasons:
- No grains and grain-derived or -related products. No bread. No pasta. No rice. No potatoes.
- No sugar or candy.
- Up to four pieces or portions of fruit a day. Bananas, apples, peaches, straw-, rasp- or blueberries and pineapple are my favorites.
- Nuts, cashews, almonds and Brazilian nuts in particular.
- Varied beans (green beans, kidney beans or peas) for carbs and protein.
- Lots of (raw) vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, radishes and such. Broccoli and asparagus are excellent!
- Leafy greens. Spinach makes a great base for a salad.
And in the animal and dairy domain I eat:
- French cheese
- Chicken breast or turkey.
- Red cow meats, mostly steak.
- A variety of fish with raw or smoked wild salmon being my favorite.
Another important part of being healthy is getting enough sleep and exercise. I have to get a minimum of eight hours sleep per night. Not on average. At least eight hours per night, but no more than ten on the weekends. The old adage of “every hour before midnight counts for two” has great truth to it. I’d rather go to sleep at nine thirty or ten and get up at six then go to sleep at midnight and sleep until eight.
In addition, napping at about two pm for twenty to thirty minutes gives me a great boost. In the weekends I like to go for an hour, between three and four.
Concerning exercise, I’d suggest lifting weights twice a week and doing some fun cardio to go with that. Fun cardio for me is something like doing a martial arts training, going running with my dog, or going swimming for an hour. Weight lifting for me seems to works best when I do it three times a week (upper body/lower body split), with a little cardio at the end. Fun cardio I then do twice a week.
Finally I love to adhere to Mark Sissons’ move slowly principle. Just walk. Lay in the grass a bit. Soak up the air around.
Pillar 4, eat whatever I want
And here’s the kicker. I love candy. I love soda. I love fries. I love pizza. I love chocolate. I love beer. I love cake and pie. I love falling asleep with a very full stomach. I love going to the movies and eating crisps and drinking Coke. I love to bake my own apple pie and eat it all at once.
Thankfully my cravings can be controlled if they arise. Thankfully, as described in Tim Ferris’ Slow carb diet, one binge day each week can’t hurt. In fact, it works in your favor, as it jump starts your body into burning more calories and being more efficient in the days you eat properly. The psychological aspects of something to look forward to and rewarding yourself works wonders. Plan the days you eat what you want and you’ll be fine, health-wise. Maybe at first, like I did, you’ll eat everything in sight. But after a few of these days, you’ll be less extreme with what you put in your mouth. You won’t eat as much and it won’t be all that bad. Especially if the rest of your diet is filled with great meats, veggies and fruits and such, like I described in pillar 3.
Bodybuilders frequently employ these cheat days or cheat meals to help them being more successful with their diets.
I wasn’t planning on doing a review on the Slow Carb or Primal diets. Nor was I looking to make an exact comparison. But both diets/lifestyles have elements that can be mixed to make your own perfect match. The cheat days from the Slow Carb diet combined with the greater variance in foods from the Primal Blueprint and the absence of ‘fast carbs’ and grains make the best diet for me. I feel energetic, healthy and well fed, while providing proper fuel and nutrition for my body.
Check out the two diets. Find your own foods. And have fun while living healthy. You deserve it.
Ferriss’ Slow carb: