Crossfit Primal/Paleo

CrossFit on a Low Carb Paleo or Primal Diet

      “If you are going to do high-intensity exercise, you should eat the carbohydrate that goes along with it.” – Matt Lalonde

<UPDATE – 05.28.2012 1600>


Notice that the one reply mentions that Mat Lalonde eventually came to the conclusion that carbs were necessary to sustain CrossFit workouts. I will look for the podcast that the thread mentions to confirm, but in the meantime, I am going to either increase my daily carb intake or do carb ‘refeeds’ a couple of times per week to ensure I don’t ‘bonk out’ doing CrossFit.


<UPDATE – 05.28.2012 1600>

I found the podcast in which Matt discusses the ramifications of going low carb while doing CrossFit. You can listen to it here:

The relevant section where Matt speaks to when he finally ‘bonked’ (my term to describe it, and based on his telling of what happened to him, an understatement) starts at 44:07. Key summary:

    • “If this article had been a published piece of scientific literature, I would have retraced it….it was foolish, stupid, and naive….and no one should attempt what I did…”
    • Was seeing results improve, but after writing that up “I completely crashed”
    • A workout consisting of rowing and sumo-deadlift high-pulls caused him to fall to the floor and go into and out of consciousness. He realized his brain was running out of glucose.
    • He composed himself and quickly went to the nearby Ben & Jerry’s and picked out 3 pints of gluten-free ice cream. He ate all three right at the counter “in a matter of minutes…and I could feel my body soaking up the sugar”

Bottom line from Matt – “Don’t do that.” “If you are going to burn carbohydrate, eat carbohydrate.” He recommends starchy stuff like yucca root, peeled potatoes for this. “If you are going to do high-intensity exercise, you should eat the carbohydrate that goes along with it.”

As for me….once I heard this you know what I did? I went to the local store and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s “Everything But The…” (Kitchen Sink), gave 1/3rd of it to my wife, and then ate the rest in anticipation of tomorrow morning’s CrossFit. And, so long as I am still seeing the muscle definition/toning as a result of the super-intensity CrossFit, I will continue to indulge in a super-sugar treat like this once a week if I feel it’s necessary : ) Otherwise, it’ll be a mashed large sweet potato (with butter, heavy cream, and cinnamon) per day to supplement.


So I’ve finished week one of CrossFit and, so far, am experiencing some amazing changes already. I’m very surprised to see a ‘V’ shape starting to form from my chest/arms down to my ‘still-10-extra-pounds-around-it’ of gut. The strength training from the two sessions, which admittedly weren’t really full WODs even, have been enough to stimulate some serious and noticeable changes in my body already and I’m really stoked about that. Yesterday I did 50 air squats consecutively (was easier than I thought it would be), as well as some shoulder dislocations. I’ll continue to do that through this weekend minus Monday, so my body is well rested for Tuesday’s CrossFit session. I gotta admit, if it’s not obvious already – I’m already obsessed with CrossFit and I haven’t even done a group WOD yet. I have my final Fundamentals personal training session on Tuesday, which should be a real monster of a session since my coach is fixing to fit in Fundamentals 2 and 3 into a single session. From there, she said I would be ready to join the group sessions for WODs. I don’t think I’m ready, but what the heck.

Back to the topic of this post. A very important topic that has never been answered fully. At least not that I can find. Conventional Wisdom on diet/nutrition/fitness is dead wrong on most things, so I can’t turn there for any legitimate, research-backed advice on this simple question:

Can I Do CrossFit While Continuing on a Low Carb Paleo/Primal Diet?

With the exponential increase in physical activity that something like CrossFit (or P90X, etc.) incurs, is a low carb paleo (or primal) way of eating still ideal? I know it’s ideal for the day-to-day, and I know it works for active weight loss if one restricts carb intake appropriately. And for those not looking to lose weight, I know that a Paleo/Primal diet will result in that person feeling better overall, with more energy.But what about when one decides to make the jump from a reasonably fit (for a 40-something year old) person to a hardcore athletic training program such as CrossFit?

Do I need to carb-load before or do carb refeeds or just generally increase my carb intake daily to supplement?

Or do I up the fat and protein? Or just the protein? Natural gluconeogenesis, theoretically, should be enough to replenish my glycogen stores without adding any extra glucose (i.e., sugar aka carbohydrate) back to my diet.

This article by Mat Lalonde is the best source on the subject I’ve found:

CrossFit On a Low Carb Paleo Diet: Mat Lalonde Reporting

The summary:

I felt a little sluggish for the first two weeks and CrossFit metcons really kicked my butt. It seemed like I had to work twice as hard only to come up a few seconds, sometimes a few minutes, short of a PR. However, my energy levels returned between the second and third week of low-car paleo eating. At this point I felt no energy slump in the afternoon (a problem I had previously) and I was having much less of a problem matching my PRs on CF metcons. Most important were the noticeable increases in strength and loss of body fat around the abdomen.

Mat goes on to say:

So where to go from here? I’m going to keep this up because I know I’ll be healthier in the long run by consuming fewer carbohydrates. Does this mean that post workout carbohydrates are bad? Absolutely not! In a situation like the CrossFit games, with multiple workouts throughout the day, PWO carbs are essential. Replenishing glycogen stores takes approximately a day on a low carb diet whereas wolfing down some mashed sweet potatoes will get the job done in a few hours. In addition, the fact that fat slows down gastric emptying probably means you don’t want to be eating a whole lot of it during competition. Easily digestible protein and carbohydrates are still the way to go in a games setting. However, I think my experiment highlights the fact that PWO carbs are a powerful tool that should be used sparingly under the right conditions. Avoiding a carb load after a workout will allow you to hold on to the insulin sensitivity you gained from exercising. This is a huge boon, especially for clients who are trying to improve their body composition.


I urge you to read the full article! It’s well done and gives the proper context.

My Conclusion (For What It’s Worth)

So what does Mat’s experience tell me? I need to stick it out for a couple of weeks eating the way I’ve been eating for the past year and a half, which has been successful for me and, most importantly, I *feel best* day to day as a result of.

But last night I went out to eat with my family with the sole purpose of doing something I haven’t done in months – eat a high-carb, junk food meal. Thinking it would ‘replenish’ the glycogen stores. It resulted in a shared appetizer of nachos piled on with cheese, peppers, chicken, guacamole, etc., one of those big ass cheeseburgers with fries, a ‘Kolsch’ beer (I think Rock Bottom Brewery’s beer generally sucks, and this one didn’t change that opinion) and then a kid-sized TCBY  Greek Yogurt (garbage worse for you health-wise than straight-up ice cream). Felt like shit afterwards (physically, not mentally – I know I can absorb meals like that without issue). Very sluggish, and my heart was racing as a result of the influx of sugar from the carbs. We ate at ~7pm and my heart didn’t stop until ~10pm.

And, quite frankly, the meal wasn’t all that good. I only ate half the fries. When you eat healthy, consistently, for as long as I have now, stuff like that loses its appeal. Especially the fries. The burger was decent.

So, I’m gonna try to stick it out and hope that, after a couple of weeks, my body will adjust to the rigors of working out hard and legit while still eating healthy. I just want to avoid getting on the hamster wheel – eating bread, rice, and other poisons only to *have* to workout just to mitigate the effect. That’s not a way to live, but unfortunately it is Conventional Wisdom’s prescription – eat shitty food under the pretense of ‘Healthy Whole Grains’, etc., and then burn it off on a treadmill. How’s that working out for ya?

I’ll be sure to post often as I continue through the CrossFit experience. Jumping into it has reinvigorated my focus on sharing my story via this blog.

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