The Skinny on LeBron
If you follow sports at all, especially the NBA, then you have probably heard that LeBron James has lost some weight this off-season. According to ESPN, the 6′ 8″ NBA superstar has always been listed at 250 lbs, but it’s long been rumored that he was closer to the 270 lb range. After eating a low carb/Paleo style diet for 67 days over the off-season, he is truly at a playing weight of 250 lbs. The following quote from LeBron appeared in the ESPN article, “”I’ll tell you what I couldn’t have — no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no refined sugar — no nothing.” James subsisted off of meat, fish, veggies and fruit. While saying he had no carbs is an exaggeration, he probably did keep the carbs extremely low. James is not the only NBA player to follow a low carb/Paleo diet, there have been others. In fact, James was first introduced to it when he played with Ray Allen for the Miami Heat. Ray Allen explored this nutritional approach in an attempt to extend his already lengthy career and reduce his reliance on anti-inflammatory medications. Other NBA players who have experimented with some form of low carb/Paleo nutrition include Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, and Carmelo Anthony (who posted a skinny picture over the Summer, similar to LeBron James). There hasn’t been a lot of definitive research revealing the effects of this nutrition approach with elite athletes, so only time will tell how they perform. In an online article at CBS Sports, Paleo diet expert and author, Robb Wolf, who wrote the Paleo Solution, believes that high level athletes need some extra carbs to perform optimally, which includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, and some white rice. Many of these athletes have seen improvements in their physical health and weight, and yet, instead of applauding them for their efforts to improve their health, some choose to label their nutrition as extreme, even dangerous.
At the beginning of Summer, I wrote a blog post about nutrition, and the turning of the tide. A movement to discredit these alternative nutritional approaches, especially the Paleo movement. Critics want to bring the focus back to the old calorie count/energy expenditure method while mostly discounting the actual quality of food we are putting into our mouths. As far as commentary on the LeBron James diet, an article on Yahoo Finance was titled,”Here’s What Normal People Can Eat To Follow The LeBron James Diet.” Apparently, normal people can’t reduce their carb intake. Luckily, they include a meal plan at the end of the article to make sure you incorporate healthy whole grains and dairy back into your eating plan (note my sarcasm). In the article, a registered dietitian advises against the diet because it is too extreme. According to her, eliminating food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies and can be impossible to sustain in the long term. Recently, I have also come across another major critic of the Paleo diet, Alan Aragon, who holds a masters degree in nutrition, is a weight loss contributor to Men’s Health magazine, and works with private clients. Aragon picked apart the Paleo diet in a March 2013 presentation at the NSCA Personal Trainer’s Conference. The slides from that presentation can be seen here. His main points are that the ancestral diet can never be truly replicated because variability of food and geographic location of our prehistoric ancestors. He also points to archaeological data that challenge the notion that the introduction of grains was a more recent event than it really was. He also states that eliminating specific foods or whole food groups could lead to orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. On a positive note, he does mention that eating whole/unrefined foods has strong benefits, which is a focus of Paleo eating.
I have written about this before (ad nauseam), but eating a Paleo/low carb diet made a huge improvement in my health. At a time when my digestive system was a total mess, and I thought I would never feel good again, cutting out grains and reducing my carb intake made all the difference. I also went from getting sick often (colds and flu), to getting a mild cold once or twice a year. The change was purely health motivated (digestive and immune system), and I maintained my normal weight, but those who need to lose weight often see results, just as LeBron did. However, my body composition did improve and my body fat decreased. I have not had problems maintaining it over the years, four years to be exact. It has definitely become a part of my lifestyle. I understand where Alan Aragon is coming from in his presentation mentioned above. As far as a true or strict Paleo diet is concerned, people might be too restrictive or obsessed with it. I initially started on a strict Paleo diet but maybe the way I eat now is better described as a low carb diet (although, I have eaten more carbs this Summer while following the Mass Made Simple plan which I will talk about more in a future post). I do incorporate some dairy, and a few grains here and there (rice), but I feel like keeping the carbs low provides the most health benefits. I am lucky to have my wife who plans out great low carb dinners throughout the week, and I often eat the left overs for breakfasts and lunches. If I eat out, most restaurants are willing to make a few modifications for me. For example, I go to Sammich and I get a Tuna Fish sandwich, but they will convert it into a salad for me since I don’t want the bread. In most cases, my avoidance of grains leads to an abundance of vegetables. I believe that’s a positive trade off. I have been able to sustain it over the years and never feel deprived. On a very rare occasion I will have something with wheat in it, but the subsequent reaction from my digestive system later, just reaffirms my decision to avoid it. I also want to mention that I have remained healthy even though I have avoided specific food groups such as grains, and at times dairy. I have not died from foregoing a piece of bread, which according to the Yahoo article, is made out to be quite dangerous. Low carb is the nutritional approach I will continue to follow, refine, and experiment with in the future.
LeBron James has brought Paleo/Low Carb diets into the recent spotlight. His results have been hard to ignore and yet, there are those who still want to criticize it. I, however, see it as an example. An example of how we can take control of our diet, lose weight (if needed), and make positive changes in our health. I am also an example of a person who can eat a low carb diet for long periods of time, sustain it, and improve my health. I have had clients who have used this approach to improve their health and lose weight too. I know that we can never truly know what our ancestors ate, but we can do our best to hypothesize. It makes sense that they would eat whole/unrefined foods, and everyone can benefit from that simple strategy alone. There is a lot of research showing weight loss and health improvements with a low carb diet, here and here are two examples that can be looked at. If you decide to change your nutrition, regular blood work can help you see if you are obtaining favorable health results. It’s important to track your bio markers and make sure they are moving in the right direction. As far as saying it’s dangerous to eliminate food groups such as grains or dairy, I will leave you with this, my own personal opinion and I have no specific research study to back it up. A lot of these health problems seem to rise out of convenience. What do I mean by that? Most of us have a grocery store or restaurant near by, and we can conveniently access pretty much any food we want. If we were suddenly detached from convenience and put into a survival situation where we had to gather and hunt our own food, I am pretty sure we wouldn’t be wasting time trying to figure out how we were going to grow wheat and bake a loaf of bread or find a cow to milk. We would hunt, fish, gather, and survive! Because that’s what people did before we had all this convenience, and we are still here today.