Back to the Future – Insulin, Glucagon and The Zone

“I never thought I was going to end up here.” I’ve been saying that A LOT lately. Today I said it about my diet.

About 10 years ago I was at the peak of my bodybuilding lifestyle. I was weighing EVERYTHING that went into my mouth, training hard, working in a Vitamin World store and spending my entire paycheck on supplements.

In a way, this time (the mid to late 90s) was somewhat of a “Golden Age” for bodybuilding. At least for me. Muscle Media 2000 and EAS were at their peak and they brought decent supplements to the market like creatine, Met-Rx and Phosphagen HP. The ECA stack was THE fat burner to use and you could get Ephedrine in 250 tab bottles for around $25. Herbal ECA was EVERYWHERE – you could get it at CVS for God’s sake. Old Bill “Feels Like Deca” Phillips was still one of the good guys and TC’s writing was as good as ever. Mike Mentzer was still alive and Dorian Yates was Mr. O. When Muscle Media 2000 ran the first Physique Challenge contest I jumped on it and trained my ass off.

These were some of the best days of my life. I felt awesome, my health was outstanding, my mood was always up, I was gaining muscle easily and things were just great. I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing this part of my life because everything seemed to work so well. If it’s repeatable then I want to repeat it. And I’ve already made up my mind that it IS repeatable.

I had the epiphany this morning that I’ve come full circle with my diet. Back in the day it was all about controlling insulin. Timing meals, combining protein, carbs and fat, knowing the Glycemic Index of foods. I read Dan Duchaine’s “Bodyopus” so many times it fell apart and I tried everything he recommended. EVERYTHING. I took all the blood sugar control supplements: vanadyl sulfate, chromium picolinate, alpha lipoic acid. I considered getting some Glucophage from overseas.

The past two weekends I’ve been immersed in CrossFit. I did the CrossFit Running and Endurance Cert in Milford, CT at CrossFit Milford and then I went to Vassalboro, Maine to do my Level 1. I’ve written a lot about how CrossFit is going to change everything in fitness in my articles One More Reason CrossFit and Kettlebells will Rule the World, Kettlebells will Change Everything… and CrossFit will Change Everything… It already is. One theme that kept coming up at both certs was the Zone diet.

The Zone was written about 10 years ago – right about the time I was at my bodybuilding peak. It was pretty influential at the time – if not a bit underground. In fact, I still have a few Muscle Medias with Barry Sears interviews in them. I can vividly remember chowing on Zone and Balance Bars and adding flax oil to everything. I even came up with this concoction that I lived on for about 5 years made out of plain applesauce with whey protein mixed in and Grape Nuts and olive oil over the top – perfect 1/3 ratios of protein, carbs and fat.

So, here I am. It’s over 10 years later and I’ve tried every diet out there. I’ve done Paleolithic, vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, Weston A. Price style, The Maker’s Diet, cyclic ketogenic, The Warrior Diet and a bunch of variations on all of them. I’ve eaten raw meat, drank RAW cow and goat milk, made my own yogurt and kefir, eaten raw eggs, fasted regularly and made almost daily trips 30 minutes away to get fresh organic produce and meats. I’ve been coached by some of the top people in the world on Paleolithic and raw vegan eating and I’ve read over 60 diet and nutrition books in the past 5 years.

And, what do we come back to? Full circle – controlling insulin with a Zone style diet. Full damn circle.

As far as most high level CrossFit coaches are concerned, Zone-Paleo is the way to go. I could argue some of the finer points of “Paleo” with them but, the fact is, this recommendation hit me like a lightning bolt.

Current nutritional fashion is heading toward a Paleo style diet. When you get deep into that approach you find that most of the major thinkers recommend an “as much as you want” approach to your portions. They also aren’t terribly concerned with nutrient ratios or eating 5-7 small meals per day. The reasoning is sound – 100,000 years ago we would have feasted on an animal we just killed or gathered what we could of fruits and vegetables when they were available. We would have eaten until we were full. Our ancestors probably didn’t weigh their food or worry about the combined glycemic load of their meal.

This approach also makes sense because, if we’re going for a full “back to nature” approach to eating, we SHOULD be allowing our physiology to control when and how much we eat. It makes sense intellectually.

The problem is, it doesn’t work too well. I’m just a few days into eating a full, strict Paleolithic diet IN ZONE PROPORTIONS and I feel AWESOME! And, interestingly enough, a few nights ago I went overboard and ate WAY too much (in Zone proportions) and woke up feeling like crap the next day. I’m assuming this is back to the point of Sears’ statement that too much food in any proportion will cause a large secretion of insulin. Point made, Barry…

So, the point of all this – other than allowing me to take a stroll down memory lane – is that I’m starting to see things come together in the eating realm.

I think there is validity to some of the pure theories out there and we can all marvel at their beauty and elegance. I think the problems start when we cling to a theory and don’t address the issues we see in applying it in the real world.

It reminds me of my more theoretical chemistry and engineering work in college. You’d almost always find that there was some kind of a “constant” added into an equation to make it work. The Ideal Gas Law is a great example. The constant basically adjusts the equation for what goes on in the laboratory because no gas is truly ideal.

No human is ideal either, apparently…

The bottom line:

If you’re eating Zone, try doing it strict Paleo. If you’re eating Paleo, try doing it in strict Zone proportions.



Originally posted on my site: []

Other Posts You'll Like: