Thrive, Paleo, or Other? Planning My Experiment

What’s the best whole-food diet?

A carefully-crafted plant-based diet emphasizing only nutritious, alkalizing, and energizing foods?
The Paleo diet, based on the eating patterns of humankind over the last two million or so years?
An omnivorous diet of whole foods with high-quality meat and dairy?

Which is best? Undoubtedly, that depends on the person. But it is possible to determine which is best for *me*. Next Friday, I’ll begin an experiment which could potentially take up to 39 weeks: a 12-week trial of three quality whole-food diets in turn, each beginning with a 1-week transition period.

Why? First, I need to lose weight. Although I’ve come a long way in the four years since I began running, I’m still overweight, and I want not to be. More than that, I want to be lean. Running lighter is simply more fun! Although these diets aren’t meant specifically for weight loss, I believe that Thrive’s nutritious vegan approach will very likely help me lose weight. Second, I need to find what best fuels my running. Although I’ve been a near-vegetarian for years, after reading sources for athletes that encourage a lot of protein, I began eating far more eggs over the last year. However, my results were mixed, and I want to investigate. Hence, my three-step experiment outlined below.

  • Diet I: Thrive-inspired plant-based whole-food diet

    I’ll largely be following the plan presented by Brendan Brazier in his wonderful book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. Thrive is much more strict than most vegans eat (there are lots of junk-food vegans out there). Thrive is concerned with eliminating dietary stressors, acid-forming foods, and non-nutritious foods. Thus, processed carbs, wheat, corn, and many forms of soy are out, as are high omega-6 vegetable oils, refined sugars, and coffee. Did I really say meat, dairy, eggs, wheat, corn, soy, cheap vegetable oils, sugar, and coffee? Isn’t that at least 90 percent of the Standard American Diet? It is, and Thrive is almost the antithesis of SAD.

    What’s left? Nearly all vegetables, all fresh or frozen fruits, most nuts and seeds, plus more exotic fare like sea vegetables, ancient grains and pseudo-grains. Special attention is given to the balance of Omega 3, 6, and 9 fats, and reducing inflammation. Strict as it is, Thrive is still less restrictive than some other diets like Timothy Ferris’s slow-carb diet which eschews all fruits and grains.

    However, its restrictions do concern me; sustainability is key for any long-term strategy, so I’m going to allow myself two mild “cheats” per week. These are not going to be a license to eat a pint of ice cream or a half chicken. These will be reasonable cheats, like a sushi lunch). And I’m not a fanatic—I won’t sweat it if I eat a wrap with mayo that might have a couple of grams of egg in it, or have something sweetened with honey instead of agave nectar. Beside the “vegan cheats,” I’ll also allow myself a few optional “Thrive cheats”–foods that, though vegan, fall outside of the Thrive world (white rice, some nachos, etc.)

    In spite of my premeditated cheating, I am really looking forward to this exciting approach to eating. Who can resist a recipe called “Wild Rice Yam Pancakes”?

  • Diet II: Paleo

    After I’ve given the Thrive diet a 12-week test, I’ll probably begin a test of the Paleo diet, Loren Cordain’s modern-day adaptation of humanity’s pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer diet. Paleo consists of meat, eggs (in moderation), vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds only). The condition is that if Thrive should feel so perfect that I can’t imagine eating any other way, screw it—I’ve found what’s right for me. However, if I’m still interested, Paleo is up next. Again, I’ll be emphasizing whole-foods, and will strive to eat the best, closest-to-wild meat, fish, and eggs possible during this time. Looking at Cordain’s recipes, they seem rather, um, mundane compared to Thrive’s, so I’ll likely continue my vegan meals as before, but will incorporate at least one animal-based meal a day, whether eggs or meat. I know some of you are wondering how could anyone have LESS that that, but for me, that will be a dramatic change.

    Note: I will not hesitate to end the experiment early if I feel a dramatic loss of energy, or any other strongly negative effects.

  • Diet III: Whole foods with dairy: omnivore or lacto-vegetarian

    Assuming I still haven’t been won over by Thrive or Paleo, I’ll try a third alternative, incorporating high-quality grass-fed dairy, and possibly eggs and meat, contingent on my experience of Paleo. Again, I might cut the experiment short based on my experience.

UPDATE, May 12, 2013
How did it go? Read about it.

How to Recover Quickly from a Running Injury

I was running in the Norfolk Freedom Half-Marathon. A few miles in, something felt wrong in my left knee, as though my left leg had suddenly grown a half-inch or so. Soon it became worse, with an internal “clicking” or “catching” sensation in my knee. By mile nine, I was reduced to mostly walking. I finished in pain, wishing I had been smarter and dropped out when I realized something was wrong.

The next day, I saw a sports physician who informed me I had a torn meniscus, cheerfully handing me a depressing pamphlet on meniscus surgery. He prescribed a painkiller and a month of physical therapy visits, and a follow-up visit for possible surgery. I had some dark thoughts before I was able to begin therapy … would I need surgery? would I be able to run again as well as I had before? Or would I become one of the many people I’ve met who shake their head sadly and say “Yeah, I used to run, but then my knees gave out…”

My fears were allayed as soon as I began therapy. My PT told me that he also has a torn meniscus, and that surgery didn’t help him but he was going to show me what did.

Over the next four weeks I had nine sessions of physical therapy, doing exercises designed to strengthen my muscles and align my joints properly. I learned a quad press to provide quick pain relief after the knee has been stretched. I learned the world’s greatest stretch for warming up which is widely known as—wait for it—“The World’s Greatest Stretch”. And I learned that I had to get out and start run/walking again with very gentle paces at first, gradually working up to my previous level.

The results were amazing. One month later, and I am back on my marathon training schedule. I’ve already nearly equaled my previous best Cooper test, and I’m doing speedwork better than ever before. I’ve also acquired valuable skill and knowledge in self-care and injury prevention and recovery.

What should you do if you become injured?

1. Don’t panic. Sports medicine has come a long, long way. Very few people should ever need to say goodbye to running due to knee injuries. Physical therapy can assist with a tremendously wide variety injuries, and when surgery is truly necessary, it can help in most other cases.

2. Get qualified help as soon as possible. Don’t wait, don’t be a “hero” (a fool) and continue to work out knowing that something is seriously wrong, without knowing what it is or how to cure it. Also be aware that sports injury and rehabilitation is not your family physician’s field of expertise. “Qualified help” in this case means an expert in the kind of injury you suffered.

3. Take charge of your recovery. “Hire” the therapist or other sports-injury expert to guide you in rebuilding your body to health and fitness. Many people take a passive role as “patient” in the healing process, and most health-care providers are accustomed to that. Don’t be passive. Break the pattern. Actively engage the expert you’ve hired in how to get back to doing what you want to be doing, as quickly and safely as possible.

4. Follow the treatment. Don’t slack. If you have a concern about the appropriateness of a specific movement or exercise, or if it causes unexpected pain, ask about it. But your recovery time is not “rest time,” but time to devote yourself fully to task of repairing your body.

5. Ask questions. Communicate. Ask your therapist for what exercises you can do at home to assist with the healing process. When is appropriate for you to begin training again, and at what level of intensity? Ask for what you can do after the therapy ends to continue to improve. Ask what exercises will help prevent future injuries.

6. Make the new routines part of your overall training. Some may be appropriate for warmup/cooldown exercises, while others might be better at other times. But the important thing is to continue with the exercises that help you as long as you benefit from them, which in some cases, may be the rest of your life.

7. Expect the best. Eat right. Gradually increase your activity level. Go forward, slowly and cautiously. Listen carefully to your recovering body.

Coming October 12th!

Welcome! will be up and running on October 12, 2011. Check back for great content about running, nutrition, weight-loss, and inspiring refreshment for the spirit.

Upcoming posts:

  • Review of the amazing movie, The Tree of Life
  • 12 Myths about running that everybody “knows”
  • Why restaurant salads usually suck, and how to make some that don’t
  • How to beat caffeine addiction
  • Omega-6’s and Omega-3’s and your health
  • The dying art of the apology
  • Why no news is good news