Want to gain muscle, lose fat, boost energy, and slow the effects of aging? Want to do it with minimal time in the gym? And want to do it while eating copious amounts of saturated fat?
The diet part of the Primal Blueprint is based on eating the foods that our Paleolithic ancestors ate, and what we evolved to thrive on: plants and animals. In other words, the Caveman diet. No grains, legumes, sugar, or processed foods, but also no fear of natural fat. As the French have demonstrated, fat is not evil.
The exercise portion is also based on imitating cavemen. Contrary to popular belief, they did not spend hours a day on a treadmill. But they did a lot of moving around, lifted heavy things, and occasionally had to run for their life. So this program involves a good amount of easy cardio, bodyweight resistance exercises, and occasional sprints.
However, I didn’t really love the idea of doing very high reps with very light resistance. Going by the book, I would have been doing pushups on my knees, which didn’t seem very effective. I started out by skipping a few levels within the program (e.g., decline pushups instead of knee pushups), but then I joined a gym so I could follow the Stronglifts program.
Medhi has a free ebook explaining Stronglifts, which involves compound lifts with barbells three times a week, 5 sets of 5 reps, for 3 exercises per session. Unfortunately, the 5 pages of actual information is buried between 295 pages of testimonials and sales pitches. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s worth finding.
The results? Dramatic, though somewhat less than the optimist in me had hoped for. However, I think I might be able to get the results I want with a few tweaks.
Anyway, Mark’s claim of “effortless weight loss” is almost an understatement. I lost 15 pounds in the first month while stuffing myself (up to 4,000 calories a day, for muscle gain). I had to go out and buy smaller pants, which are now getting loose. Meanwhile, some of my shirts feel like they’re going to rip in the back and shoulders.
Sure, I miss carbs, but I was surprised at how easy it was to completely ditch pizza and lasagna. Apparently these foods are a lot less tempting when you’re not hungry. And a high-fat, low-carb diet doesn’t leave you hungry.
Unfortunately, my weight loss completely stalled after that first month. Of course, if some fat loss was offset by muscle gain, that’s great. But I’d still need to lose another 15 pounds of fat to look like an Abercrombie model. When I did some searching, I found that almond butter and yogurt, two foods that tend to be overeaten by the newly primal, are often culprits in stalled fat loss.
My consumption of almond butter (2 jars a week) is extraordinarily high compared to what people are recommending, so I’ve cut that out completely. I’ve dropped yogurt too, and I’m trying to keep carbs as low as I can for a while. I lost 2 pounds in the week since I made these changes, but I’ll need more time to see if this is going to work.
As for the strength training, that was an unqualified success. Here are my progressions in workout weights for my first three months:
Deadlifts: 185 -> 265
Squats: 135 -> 235 (that’s 100 pounds!)
Bench press: 55s -> 75s (dumbbells)
Rows: 95 -> 155
Overhead press: 85 -> 110
Not bad for a 37 year old who had been stuck on the same weights for the last 15 years.
I can’t really tell you what actions caused what results, because I changed a whole bunch of variables at once. But there’s no denying that something here works. I suspect that ditching grains and sugar is the most important thing. Give it a try; the results may surprise you.