Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Whole30 Paleo: My January Experience

This year's holidays were a big difference from the past. A year of living mostly Paleo meant that I no longer even wanted to eat anything with gluten in it (bye bye bread, rolls, cookies, cakes), and I didn't even really overeat on sugar much. When it came to holiday meals, my body knew what "enough" felt like, and that generally meant stopping well before that holiday over-full sensation that many of us know all too well. I like that I feel so in tune with my body, and am inclined to choose healthy foods because that's what makes me feel best, not because I feel like I "should" or would feel guilty for eating otherwise.

Still, I had been indulging the sweet tooth a bit much, and January is a good time to re-boot healthy habits, so I decided to take the Whole30 Challenge and go thirty days on a strict Paleo regime. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to see if removing the smallish amounts of raw dairy that I normally eat would produce any notable benefits, and whether or not I could train at a high intensity on a strictly Paleo diet.

I have to admit that the first week was consumed with chocolate withdrawals. It's my last indulgence and a hard one to give up. I usually have a couple squares of good dark chocolate every day, and I realize that it makes a difference in my mood. To call me "cranky" in the first week of January would've been an understatement. The second week felt pretty great, but by the third week I felt frantically under-carbed after a lot of workouts. I felt like I just could not get enough carbs into my body and it made me appreciate the necessity of fueling workouts with a proper amount of glycogen. I ate a ridiculous amount of dried fruit (which had the predictable digestive effects), plus bananas and yams until I was sick of them.

There was one occasion on which I blew the Whole30 protocol, and it was definitely tied to glycogen depletion. After a hard swim workout followed by a tough interval run, I came home and prowled around the kitchen like a crazed beast. I ate some nuts, ate a banana, followed it with some dried mango, then opened the cupboard and poured myself a big bowl of organic rice krispies. Aaaaahhhhhh. All of a sudden, equilibrium was restored. So that was a clue to me that perhaps 100% Paleo is not going to be the way I eat for the remainder of my Ironman training.

After a month of eating 100% Paleo (except for one bowl of rice krispies), I have reached the following conclusions:

1. I need to fuel tough workouts with simple sugars. Sometimes I can get away with fruit leathers and bananas, but using drink mixes, gels, and bars gets to be increasingly crucial as you dial up the intensity and duration. I'm going to go back to following the recommendations in The Paleo Diet for Athletes for fueling my training sessions.

2. I didn't notice a difference between having some dairy in the form of raw goat's milk and giving it up on the Whole30. So I'm going back to milk in my tea and smoothies. Especially smoothies, I found that coconut milk and almond milk messed with my stomach and didn't give me the protein boost that using milk does.

3. Although I proved I can do without for a month without a great deal of difficulty (barring the first few days), I'm definitely going back to a couple squares of chocolate a day. Just for my mental health.

4. I'm not opposed to adding in "safe starches" (rice and potatoes) when necessary, especially if I feel like my glycogen is getting depleted. But being on the Whole30 made me more conscious of where I use these as filler, and what I can use as alternatives (like cauliflower for dishes with sauces).

All in all, I think the Whole30 is a worthwhile thing to do. It makes you rethink your approach to food and to try new meals. I used a lot of new recipes, and the ones that I liked will get included in my regular repertoire. It's a great way to reset yourself and to find out which parts of your diet are working for you and which are not. I'm not enough of a Paleo Purist to eat like this all the time, but it's a useful tool in finding the optimal diet for each of us.


Marv said...

I don't eat Paleo and really don't know a name for my nutrituion plan. Basically, I try to eat mostly fruits and vegetables-especially the leafy ones-and eat meat about three times a week-more or less.

Point is that I found myself undercarbed for my heavier training. Went for more nuts, fruit and all that but nothing did it. When I made a bottle of sports drink for a bike ride, I just drank it all beforehand. I knew then what I needed.

Alexis said...

I found your post because I blew my whole 30 because my workouts were getting stupid hard, I also found out I am pregnant so I figured a some carbs couldn't hurt- but wow! What a difference when you add some carbs back in for training!!!! Thank you for validating my observation!!