I recently watched two contrary food documentaries. One was a Netflix documentary called “Food Choices” which promoted vegan. The other was Amazon’s “Love Paleo”. (I bet you can guess what the second documentary promoted. That’s right… MEAT.)

Go Eat What You Can Naturally Gather

Food Choices, the vegan documentary, promoted a diet of 90% – 95% vegetation and only 5% meat. The food specialists in this documentary claimed our earliest ancestors were gatherers far more than hunters, and that early populations primarily survived on that which was gathered (vegetation, nuts.) They attributed high rates of cancers and diseases in modern America to the large quantities of animal fat and protein consumed, and promoted consumption of whole plant-based foods.

Go Eat What You Can Naturally Hunt and Gather, with a Focus on Hunting

Love Paleo, on the other hand, promoted a diet high in animal fat and protein. According to this documentary, studies linked obesity and heart disease to diets high in carbohydrates, while consumption of animal fat and animal protein were not linked to obesity and heart disease. The specialists in this documentary claimed that our earliest ancestors were primarily hunters, and that 99% of humans’ evolutionary DNA was formed on such animal-rich diets.
Despite how contradictory these two documentaries seem to be, they both hold many points in common:
1. Don’t eat processed foods (i.e. foods from a box)
2. Reduce sodium intake.
3. Natural vegetables, fruits, and nuts are good.
4. Be physically active.
The variability between the two documentaries is in how much animal protein and animal fat should be consumed. One claims very little animal matter should be consumed, while the other promotes high animal consumption. And I agree with both of them. How? It all comes down to exercise. I came to this conclusion naturally years ago, before I even knew what ‘Paleo’ was, or before I could define veganism.

My Story

I was about fifteen to twenty pounds heavier. I had always been an athlete, had sustained a few major injuries which had left my right knee and hip arthritic and atrophied. I once waited months to get in at a specialist – the same orthopedic specialist who treated the Redskins NFL team – only to be told I had inflammation, bone-spurs and would eventually need a joint replacement, and there was nothing I could do.

“I had never studied diets and food nor correlated it with performance.”

A few coworkers at the time began training in this thing called ‘P90X’ and invited me to join. I had no idea what it was, but as part of an office challenge I accepted with the hopes of rebuilding my knee and hip. The whole concept behind P90X is that you intensely work out a different muscle group everyday, tearing that muscle group down so greatly that it rebuilds stronger. You don’t work that muscle group out again until seven days later when the tear-down process repeats.
My problem? Every seven days each muscle group was weaker and performance worse than the previous week. My muscles perpetually burned and never rebuilt.

Epiphany

A few weeks into the P90X challenge I informed one of my coworkers about my problem – a veteran marine – and he asked what I was eating to rebuild, and I think I just stared blankly at him. I had never studied diets and food nor correlated it with performance. My breakfasts naively consisted of a mountain dew (caffeine) and poptarts (no joke.) Lunch was ramen noodles and more mountain dew. Dinner was takeout.
Then it struck me – as this marine was talking to me about diets – that I had extensively studied ratios of vegetables to protein for my reptile pets. I knew that my Green Iguana required 85% leafy greens and 10% vegetables and 5% fruit. My Bearded Dragon needed gut-loaded crickets for protein and mealworms for fat and greens for calcium.
But what about me? What about my diet?
So began a drastic change in how I ate. It was years of trial and error, based off performance. I eventually stopped P90X but traded it for mountain biking, which demands great cardiovascular and muscle strength. As my career progressed it also incrementally grew more demanding.
strava
I learned that if I go out on a 30-mile 3000-foot elevation-gain ride on a 30 pound enduro bike, I have to consume a very large amount of protein and carbohydrates in order to recover quickly. A steak and potatoes is literally the difference between one day of mountain biking or two. On a day-to-day basis, juggling aggressive mountain bike training with a brain-intensive day job drives my diet to naturally align with what makes so much activity possible: A high protein, high fat diet like that described in Love Paleo.
However, when my activity level drops over time, such as in the winter, I no longer require much protein or carbohydrates. I can feel it in my body, and my diet naturally aligns with that described in Food Choices.