Barbell and beef experiments—Lessons and customizations

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For the self-made lab rat, little is more fascinating than running spontaneous self-experiments to find ways to increase effectiveness, especially if it involves crushing at least some ill-founded conventional assumptions in the process—preferably multiple ones at a time.

While readers more often hear about my research into legal theory or bitcoin monetary economics, I do post an occasional entry on health (see my grand unified theory of evolutionary health). What follows is an update on the current state of my “barbells and beef” activities, which fill out the Nakamoto Institute-declared maximalist trinity of “bitcoin, barbells, and beef.” The emphasis this time is somewhat more slanted toward barbells, but beef is not wholly neglected—as it should never be.

I have worked with different weight-lifting systems for some years, starting only later in life, but I finally came across one, on the recommendation of Saifedean Ammous, that makes the most sense to me, feels best, and with which I am having the most success. This is the approach formalized by Mark Rippetoe in his books Starting Strength and Practical Programming for Strength Training.

The last thing I had tried was based on Body by Science by Doug McGuff. I ultimately found this program a miserable one to experience. I just felt bad doing it and didn’t want to continue. In contrast to McGuff’s system, Rippetoe explains, convincingly I believe, the superiority of natural barbell movements requiring whole-body integration and weight-bearing and practical balance, over isolated machine work. In addition, the idea of pushing reps to failure is not a very productive one and I felt it created a dismal participant experience of exhaustion.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to set up two 90-minute private lessons in June with Jeremy Tully, a certified Starting Strength coach at Bay Strength in Oakland, California. This was invaluable. Even though I believe I am relatively good at self-teaching from books and videos, the coaching still improved my form a great deal on all four basic lifts. This is a real savior as the weights gradually increase, for it is form above all that prevents injury and makes the lifts more ergonomically effective in terms of load physics.

What I find motivating about Rippetoe’s approach is that the workouts are largely the same each time, while the amount of weight lifted increases. Adding a similar small amount of weight each session sets up what is called a linear progression. This helps “gamify” the program by making progress objectively obvious, consistent, and easy to track.

Great on lifts; get diet advice elsewhere

One of the infamous problems with Rippetoe’s system is not its weight-lifting advice, but its dietary advice. The latter, which includes a gallon of milk a day, has often resulted in some adherents gaining weight that is NOT all lean.

Instead of this, I have been doing a different type of experiment in parallel since mid-September. I joined the “nequalsmany” human carnivore study, which has launched a new way for individual self-experimenters to coordinate their research and aggregate their data from similar programs. Dr. Shawn Baker has been instrumental in helping to organize and promote this. I have been on the program for the past 68 days, but I had already mostly transitioned onto it in the weeks before starting officially. During this time, I have eaten basically only meat and drank only water. Those interested in learning more about this strategy should go and read everything ever written by L. Amber O'Hearn at ketotic.org. There, that was easy.

I have lately begun to make a few exceptions due to some issues having to do with an unusual condition called histamine intolerance (speaking of that link, also go and read everything by Georgia Ede at diagnosisdiet.com). This condition is essentially an often-middle-age-onset sensitivity to foods that are aged, animal foods prominent among them. So I have to do a lot of extra work in relation to conventional supply chains to try to get the freshest possible meats. Even so, to help further mitigate the effects, I have recently added some dairy products, which do seem to help with my unusual symptoms, but I have nevertheless eaten perhaps 95% meat during the past two and a half months, the rest, only recently, being some lower-histamine cheeses and high-fat Greek yogurt. In other words, no plant foods in sight, and certainly no Rippetoe-esque milk gallons.

Provisional results

As many others before me have reported after successfully transitioning to a carnivorous diet, I feel better and more effective than ever, sleep better, and have lost some middle-aged excess around the waist. My natural concentration is now such that I should use a break timer because otherwise I can work for five or six hours or more at a sitting without noticing or looking up. This was NOT the case on previous eating strategies. In my bad old carb-eating days, I would start to think of a snack break after 90 minutes or so. Now, I eat once in the morning and literally have no thought of food again for approximately seven–nine hours, at which point I eat a second time.

Moving on to more quantitative results, with the combination of these two programs, my overall body weight has remained about the same for the past two–three months, though it is down slightly. However, since the beginning of September, the weights I have been lifting (for five-rep sets) have increased by a combined average of 17%, comprising 24% for one basic barbell exercise and 16% each for the other three. Thus, while my body weight has remained essentially stable, my strength has increased 17%. This represents a substantial increase in power/weight ratio, one of the most important variables in a great many physical endeavors.

Rippetoe’s program is by no means a “body-building” system. Such systems use quite different training methods, for example, far higher repetitions per set and more isolation exercises for the main purpose of gaining visible, though not especially efficient, lean mass. Nevertheless, for a strength program, too, some lean tissue has to be built as one of several types of physiological supports for the capability gains.

This means that my body composition has improved, with fat lost somewhat more than offsetting lean gained. As a percentage of body weight, my barbell weights have risen, slowly and steadily from early September through mid-November. The pace of increase should also be understood to reflect an age in the mid-forties as opposed to, say, the mid-twenties.

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Program customizations

I have made a few tweaks to the basic Starting Strength program with time.

The basic initial program looks about like this (5x3 = 5 repetitions x 3 sets):

A Day: Squat 5x3, Press 5x3, Deadlift 5x1

B Day: Squat 5x3, Bench 5x3, Deadlift 5x1

(The B Day drops the deadlift for other exercises before long)

One–two recovery days in between, mostly one.

The most common outside criticism of this program is what is said to be an overemphasis on lower-body work over upper, according to Jose Nino, who knows his way around different programming systems. So my first modification based on this observation was to drop the squat from every workout, placing it only on alternate workouts, just like all the other exercises. To do so, after some trial and error, I eventually came up with this:

A Day: Squat 5x3, Bench 5x3

B Day: Press 5x3, Deadlift 5x1, support exercises

One–two recovery days in between, mostly two.

This places one upper-body and one lower-body/back exercise on each day. This went on for quite some time, I was happy doing it, it didn’t take a huge amount of time (roughly 60 minutes per workout including warm-up sets), and progress continued. I put in an occasional extra recovery day at times such that the workouts averaged two–three times a week.

My next, very recent, program customization has been somewhat more daring in its departure from standard programs. After reading Practical Programming, I was struck by all the added complications in intermediate programming, except for the deadlift, which just went on its merry way linearly progressing at one work-set a week!

So I thought, Why not try something more in that direction with the other lifts too? That would be much simpler and easier. Laziness is the mother of invention.

My latest workout combines more lifts onto one day, but with just one work set for each lift. This makes it possible to hit each of these four lifts more often while going to the gym less often. This also enables dropping the number of warm-up sets for later exercises from four to three since the lifter is already warm from the previous exercises and need only revisit the form under a few different weights before proceeding with the main-event set.

Dropping to one set might also keep the linear progression going longer. If any theme emerged from Practical Programming, it is to keep the linear progression running as long as possible before moving to intermediate programming. And if any aspect of the linear progression rationale was emphasized above all, it was putting more weight on the bar, slowly but steadily, from each workout to the next for as long as possible within the linear model.

This latest customization looks like this (plus warm-up sets):

A Day: Press 5x1, Squat 5x1, Bench 5x1, Deadlift 5x1

B Day: Press 5x1, Squat 5x1, Bench 5x1, support exercises: 1x AMRAP pull-ups, dips, and/or weighted back extensions

Two recovery days in between.

This is still quite new, so I’m going to have to see how it fares over the coming weeks.

Facing up to diminishing marginal utility and rising marginal cost

 The economist at the gym sees diminishing gains and rising production costs. Image from the Cover of Practical Programming for Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker.

The economist at the gym sees diminishing gains and rising production costs. Image from the Cover of Practical Programming for Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker.

Much of the weight-lifting literature, including Rippetoe’s, seems to assume the goal of indefinitely increasing strength further, and then pushes right on to the question of how to do this. But the meddling economist must interject. “More is better” does not reflect the marginal character of both costs and benefits.

As Rippetoe explains, as strength increases, more training time, and increasingly complex training methods, are required for additional gains. The law of diminishing marginal utility shows that each additional gain will be less useful for health and function than each previous gain was. At the same time, each such marginal gain comes at a higher and higher cost in training time and complexity. If narrower and less valuable gains are coming at an ever higher cost of production, it should make sense to find a plateau at some reasonable amount of invested time and effort. This is so unless, of course, one does have a more specific goal of pushing the outer limits of personal capability, such as for competition.

I suspect that I will be happy to plateau with these lifts on a simple advanced novice program and then discover natural maintenance weights at which there is neither further progress nor regression. This should enable improved capability while avoiding all the additional time and effort needed to eek out diminishing added gains. The results should cover most of the health and function benefits with minimal effort.

What I am curious about now is what lifted-weight levels this relatively simple customized program will end up plateauing at. At this point, the weights that should be increasing—the ones on the bar—are still doing so, and the weight that should not be increasing—the one on the morning scale—is either stationary or edging down. Both are happening together, a provisional success for this self-made lab rat.

P.S. A few lifting-related tips and tricks

1) Since most conventional commercial gyms do not have fractional weight plates, I ordered some through Amazon and take them to the gym with me each time (1kg, 0.5kg and 0.25kg plates so far).

2) Warm-up sets are important. My own customized warm-up sets, except for deadlift, now follow the pattern: 1) Empty bar 5x, 2) 40% of work weight 5x, 3) 60% of work weight 3x, and 4) 80% of work weight 2x.

3) I use the app Strong to track workouts and progress. The Starting Strength app worked fine to start with, but only implements the official program and does not allow for customization.

4) I ordered some Nike weight-lifting shoes and do like them. Some people swear by socks or Five Fingers, but socks at least are technically against commercial gym rules, though some people slip off their shoes anyway.

5) My favorite hack of all follows from the fact that many conventional commercial gyms ban the use of chalk for improved grip. Instead, one can take the small paper towels the gym provides to wipe down equipment and wrap them around the bar, one under each hand. This creates a solid grip for the deadlift without chalk.

6) I ordered up some Captains of Crush grippers for home grip training on non-barbell days.

 

[UPDATE 29 December 2017]: Not long after this post, I started the 5/3/1 program. Having completed the first four-week cycle, I am a big fan of this program. Progress has accelerated without having to spend a lot of time. Using the 5/3/1 Strength app now automates all the percent weight calculations, which is the only potentially complex part. I recommend reading the 5/3/1 book and this article. Wendler specifically addresses trying to only do one big set without more volume at lower weights, reminiscent of what I was about to try at the end of the above post. He mentioned in the just-linked article that he did actually try that and it did not work.]

Outlines of a Unified Evolutionary Theory of Human and Environmental Health

Introduction

Healthy food and its production should be possible and mutually compatible. The components of what follows have been developing in the world for a long time, but in obscure corners. Now, aided by the incomparable power of the internet to spread heretical information, these insights are spreading. Evidence is being collected and disseminated in unprecedented ways. Here, they will be presented as parts of a synthesis, in which each part reinforces the others. A page of recommended resources to follow up on each topic is linked at the end.

1. Evolutionary health perspectives

Technological progress has many benefits. Yet some aspects of older styles of life, including patterns of sleeping, eating, and moving, and also aspects of food production, may have been healthier for people and environment alike than typical modern versions. Rediscovering and re-engaging some of these could raise health and well-being today.

The principle of evolution by natural selection revolutionized biology. Evolutionary theory can also help sort out the deeply confused and corrupted modern field of nutrition, though not on its own. There are several lines of evidence to go with it: biochemical pathways and interactions, controlled nutrition experiments (not epidemiological studies, which are both commonly performed and mostly useless), and archaeological and anthropological investigations of hunter-gatherer groups.

The illusion in hunter/gatherer mortality statistics

 Inupiat Family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929, by Edward S. Curtis.

Inupiat Family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929, by Edward S. Curtis.

One line of evidence is research on hunter/gatherer populations conducted prior to their taking up modern practices such as eating sugar and grain and sitting around a lot and snacking. Some of this research was conducted by Weston Price. These groups were found to be either free of or far less subject to the “diseases of civilization,” including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cognitive degeneration, and chronic joint and tooth decay.

A popular image of hunter/gatherer groups is that their lives were "nasty, brutish, and short." Quoting statistics on low average life expectancy among such groups is a favorite maneuver of casual critics. But such numbers conceal more than they reveal. Non-dietary factors in pre-modern life collapse the averages. These other factors include rampant infant and childhood mortality, death of mothers in childbirth, predators, prey fighting back, fights and battles among rivals, accidents and resulting infections, and infectious diseases. The overwhelming factor behind improved average life expectancy in modern times is the alleviation of such tragedies as these, above all, large numbers of babies dying before age one. Changes in such data tell us of the effects of modern hygiene and medicine. However, they tell us nothing about what we are investigating: What are the effects of nutrition and lifestyle on health and long-term degenerative conditions?

Evidence suggests rather that hunter-gatherers who survived the diseases and battles of youth tended to live long, with high awareness, robustness, and capability and little to no sign of the many and varied degenerative diseases afflicting moderns. The simplistic idea that they did not develop these diseases only because they died too young to suffer from them does not hold—the ones who lived long did not develop them either!

To The Primal Blueprint and beyond

Although I had been interested in healthy eating since my teen years, and spent a number of years as a vegetarian, the book that marked a sharp shift on my path of research and personal experimentation was The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, which I read in October 2010. This book presents a blend of open attitude, systematic information, and a balanced, principled approach that goes beyond nutrition to exercise and other lifestyle habits viewed with an evolutionary lens.

Other works soon informed my perspectives through phases. I transformed my approach to nutrition and exercise step by step based on new information and experiences. I, like quite a few others, have passed through trying primal and paleo approaches, LCHF, and fasting. I have now moved on to a largely zerocarb approach.

Beyond these many food and training changes over the years, I also took steps such as using software to alter computer and phone screen color temperature according to the time of day, switching to a standing desk for some types of work, using a sunrise-simulation alarm clock, and limiting smartphone reading in the sleeping area (audiobooks allowed). I think such measures helped improve sleep quality and reduce eye strain. Finally, I have discovered important insights into agriculture and environmental issues that connect these personal themes to larger-scale issues.

2. The Metabolic Power of Not Eating

Some key insights about nutrition come from surprising source: the practice of not eating sometimes, or fasting. A recent puzzle piece fit for me and many others has been to reduce “eating windows” and more consistently practice intermittent fasting (IF). It turns out that a positive health-promoting intervention is to just not eat for various periods, for example, 16 hours, 23 hours, or 35 hours, with occasional longer stretches (each person should consult with professionals before doing this, especially if already on a medication that might have to be adjusted).

IF can be done intentionally. However, many practitioners of very low carb and zerocarb diets report spontaneously not being hungry for long periods. In this case, IF becomes partly an outcome of the eating strategy, not just an intentional practice. That said, being consciously open to IF allows one to more easily capture natural fasting opportunities that arise when hunger is absent.

Fasting traditions have been around and recognized as health promoting for at least thousands of years worldwide. However, a contemporary challenge for the practice is that no one is positioned to profit from promoting and supporting it—except the person doing it. There is no special food to order and no special drug to consume. There is no product to be hyped and promoted as the wonder cure. The cure is what is not consumed. Via negativa.

Already being fat-adapted and in ketosis makes fasting easier. There is a certain freedom from always being locked into having to have that next meal or snack. While adaptation is required—anywhere from days to weeks and beyond—once adapted, myself and many others have reported consistent benefits from nutritional ketosis, fasting ketosis, and their interplay.

Fasting may be viewed as a way to intentionally replicate a "bad-hunting day" from the paleolithic past. Of course, no self-respecting paleo hunting group would have decided to have a bad-hunting day, but they would have had some anyway. Our metabolic systems would have adapted to these periodic fasts, would have come expect them. Yet today such pauses are largely missing. Moderns in search of optimal health may have to take steps to reintroduce them, this time on purpose.

When a bad-hunting phase lead to hunger, one should expect our bodies to send the following message: get out there and hunt, and hunt more effectively than lately. That means: more energy and enhanced concentration and attention. It does not mean getting cold and depressed in the cave, a path to non-survival.

The modern approach to dieting—reducing calories while still eating the same regular meals, just smaller ones—has a set of effects opposite to the positive affects of fasting, Dr. Jason Fung argues in The Obesity Code (2016). With chronic low-calorie dieting, metabolism sinks, energy and concentration fall, hunger is constant, and one feels colder. This is the opposite experience from fasting (especially after adaptation). However, it is this “eating less,” as opposed to true fasting, that is the one doomed constant in almost every failing modern “diet.” A central reason for this difference is now understood from controlled trial and biochemical research, Fung argues: the two conditions have completely different impacts on the key phenomenon of insulin resistance. Fasting improves it.

This section has suggested the importance of not eating sometimes. Next, when we do eat, what should be on the menu? What should humans eat to thrive?

3. The Zookeeper's Dilemma

 An inverted Zoo. Which are in better health? (Photo CCBY Greg HewGill)

An inverted Zoo. Which are in better health? (Photo CCBY Greg HewGill)

Imagine you are a zookeeper. A clear and pressing question about each animal is: What do they eat? To maintain healthy animals, the first priority is to try to replicate what they eat in the wild. Feeding carnivorous lions rice cakes and herbivorous zebras fish cakes will lead to sick and eventually dead animals on both sides of the fence.

One sign that something is very wrong with modern human diets was expressed by Dr. Barry Groves. He pointed out that although we observe a great deal of chronic and degenerative illness among modern humans, this is largely unheard of among wild animals. However, it is seen among captive and domesticated animals, specifically, animals that are being fed the wrong food.

So what do humans eat? Are we likewise being fed the wrong food?

Well, we eat a great many things, but that does not really help our inquiry. So what is the next question?

In caring for animals, one would ask: What do they eat in the wild?

But again here, with few exceptions, humans today no longer live "in the wild" in any helpful sense, so this kind of information is also not easy to come by. Nevertheless, it is possible to investigate what ancestors of modern humans ate when they much more nearly lived "in the wild" during long, evolutionarily formative periods, say, 50,000–100,000 or more years ago.

Answers to another question would also help: What kinds of foods do we thrive on? Humans are able to eat a wide range of food and survive doing it, but what would be ideal? This shifts the emphasis to what foods humans do best on indefinitely versus merely what they can manage to stay alive on for some years.

This is a subject of extensive medical research. Sadly, much of it is flawed due to over-reliance on study designs that are incapable of demonstrating causation. Such often confounded and poorly designed "studies," however, are far cheaper to fund and then use as the basis for getting another paper published. They also form endless fodder for journalistic articles summarizing such papers, gathering clicks while further distorting what the research itself can legitimately be said to support (usually not much).

Thus, another "evolutionary" influence on the field of human nutrition is "publish or perish," both for researchers and journalists. "Arrive at the truest answers and explain them accurately" is far down the list of priorities in this system. Another angle is "follow the money." Much of it traces back to funding from pharmaceutical and "food" companies with, respectively, overpriced pill bottles and boxes of cheap food-like substances to peddle.

Highly meat-leaning

Balancing a number of different lines of evidence, I have arrived at the view that humans are basically carnivores that can also survive on plant foods as a fall-back. That is, they can survive on plant foods even for long periods, but cannot do so without suffering degenerative harm. Feeding humans primarily—and especially only—plant foods causes them to become gradually malnourished, to sicken in a variety of ways, to "fail to thrive."

This tends to be obscured for two reasons. First, such degeneration can take years and decades to progress. Second, moderns who move toward vegan diets often report feeling better, so those diets must be good, right? Third, a few people seem to do well on vegan diets even over quite long periods and these are cited as counter examples (while most of the others just suffer through or quietly quit).

On examination, however, new vegans are quite often reporting feeling much better after moving away from something rather specific—modern diets of processed foods. They are not moving away from an ancestral diet rich in fresh fatty meat, which is also already free of processed foods. After a few years of veganism, however, with some exceptions, many find their health and mood deteriorating and are forced to quit.

Just because something is better than something else by some measures, such as feeling better or losing weight, this does not necessarily mean it is also ideal or even good. It might just be less bad than something else that came before it. A conventional processed-food diet is quite bad indeed from a health standpoint. Almost anything could be an improvement over it. As for veganism itself, with some exceptions, a typical long-term vegan is both thin and sickly and will soon list up their many and varied health challenges, which they hope in vain that the next concentrated plant supplement might fix. Actions, and diets, must be judged by their results, not only their intentions.

It may come as a surprise to many that tens of thousands of modern humans have eaten meat exclusively, some for many years, many swearing by the dramatic health benefits of the change. Many only arrive at this protocol after having tried all manner of other methods that did not work as well for them, or that even worsened their conditions. We may not yet understand exactly how or why this works so well for so many, but the accumulating number of case studies leaves little doubt that this must be investigated far more carefully than it has been to date.

4. Best for people and environment

If it is true that meat eating is the best human diet for health, another question follows. How could large-scale meat eating possibly work for a modern society? Tiny populations of paleo hunters could do it, but they were working with massive roaming herds, and many of those species went extinct! Besides, isn't meat production already bad for animals and the environment, even without being expanded further?

That they are is a clear impression given in the popular press as "settled science," so "settled" in fact, that no one even bothers to call it settled. Questioning it would be a pure heresy of the worst kind. So let us proceed to do so.

Although the belief that meat production is bad for the environment has become quite popular, the balance of evidence I have seen indicates that this view is severely misguided. To explain this, we must turn to some still different perspectives and sources not directly related to nutrition.

The view that fatty meat is the healthiest primary food for Homo sapiens—that we are basically carnivores that also have a nifty ability to fall back on plant foods in a pinch—raises a wider issue. If this were true, how could modern food production possibly shift from serving carbohydrate-centric to animal-fat- and protein-centric eating patterns on any large modern scale?

Virtually unquestioned conventional wisdom insists that not only health, but also "the" environment dictate lower, not higher, reliance on animal products. The truth, as is surprisingly often the case, may be the exact opposite. Indeed, even separate from human nutrition issues, properly managed large herd animals might be the only way to halt and reverse the large-scale environmental destruction caused by modern plant agriculture and poor land management. Moreover, whatever environmental destruction caused by grain agriculture for feeding ruminants cannot be blamed on the cattle. They naturally thrive on grass rather than grain. And they can eat grass all by themselves; that's just how they roll.

The key insight is that large heard animals and vast stretches of grassland coevolved over geologic time. They came into existence and thrived as part of a single ecological system. One of the last modern examples of this was the unending sea of bison encountered by the early European explorers of North America (before some of the pioneers systematically exterminated the animals, also further undermining cultures that had long subsisted on them).

Decades ago, Allan Savory set out to answer some pressing ecological questions. He arrived at the view that the most important and underestimated global issue is the mass desertification of grasslands. And he argues that there is only one way to effectively alter the process.

Savory's breakthrough was to discover that desertification has not been caused by “overgrazing,” as is usually thought, but by mis-grazing. Earlier effects of mis-grazing were then reinforced by misguided herd reduction or removal, which made the problem still worse, not better. More animals, properly managed, not fewer, would have been the solution. Today, he and his institute teach methods of using proper management of herd animals to recover desertified land and transform it into far more biologically productive pastures using know-how assembled under the heading “holistic planned grazing.”

Holistic planned grazing, in my view, constitutes an evolutionary approach to land management. It recognizes and builds on the ancient co-evolutionary interplay between grassland flora and large fauna. Large herds kept themselves moving across grasslands—fertilizing and tilling along the way—while staying grouped tightly to defend against predators. When they moved on, the land and flora had plenty of time to recover and regrow. The right know-how on the part of herd managers can replicate these dynamics without relying on predators to shape herd movements.

As Savory's methods have shown, such properly managed pastures naturally retain rainwater through the grass, soil, and other life that grows there, all in an evolutionary dance with the same types of animals those grasses themselves co-evolved with. Vast surfaces of the earth were once covered with thriving grasslands occupied by roving herds of untold millions of beasts. Holistic management provides a way to recreate habitats that mimic essential elements of this past in an efficient modern way. A fundamentally biological problem requires a biological solution, Savory argues, not a chemical or an industrial one. On this basis, by the way, we can already suggest that "lab-grown meat" would just further contribute to environmental problems that a vast resurgence of real animals, properly managed, could help solve.

This would happen to produce a large potential population of animals thriving in environments quite natural to them. They might then also contribute a major, nutrient-dense, modern food supply. Dr. Michael Eades arrived at a similar view after a thoughtful review of Savory's ideas and critiques of them (2 Jul 2017). He provides an exceptionally clear description of these practices. Moreover, it is politically notable that herding can be more decentralized and distributed than mass grain agriculture, enhancing local self-reliance and independence.

White Oak Pastures in Georgia, USA provides one inspiring example of transformation of a formerly conventional ranch. Using multi-species holistic management, it has not only recovered burned-out agricultural land, but has also breathed new life into a town that had been nearly deserted.

Healthy grasslands, herds, and nutrition

The foods most destructive to human health have one thing in common. They are mass agricultural crops. Sugar, wheat, and corn top the list. All of them are subsidized by governments. All of them are promoted by official dietary guidelines. All of them are highly profitable for “food” companies.

And all of them kill and maim. They just do so insidiously through their contributions to chronic systemic inflammation, excess weight, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, depression, suicide, and the modern conditions of cognitive degeneration. They are central to feeding an endless supply of sickened people into modern "healthcare" (sickness management) systems. Chronic, degenerative conditions provide much of the business for the highly profitable pharmaceutical and healthcare industries year after year. Sick people, flowing money. Who wins and who loses? You lose.

Both anecdotal and increasingly also formal evidence continues to build for beneficial roles of fasting and very low-carb and zerocarb eating in treating, and especially preventing, the entire spectrum of modern chronic ailments. However, the interests that can gain from such practices—at the strictest baseline, sellers of meat and water—are far more dispersed. Their influence pales in comparison to the concentrated financial, media, and political resources of big food plus big pharma. Billions go to conglomerates selling cheap carbohydrates mixed with toxic plant-derived oils. Billions more then go to companies selling all manner of drugs and aids, which seek to manage the chronic damage accumulating from the consumption of such alleged food.

Nevertheless, from outside of this sorry system, an unexpected larger picture is emerging, one precisely opposite the popular hypothesis that mass agriculturally based vegetarianism is best for both human health and the environment. This is the hypothesis that distributed, holistically managed grazing and carnivory are best for both human health and the environment.

The low-carb/high-fat and paleo-oriented nutritionists on the one hand, and the ecological herders on the other, have independently arrived at different pieces of a single puzzle. The synthesis of these streams of thought and practice has profound implications. The results suggest a food system based around a modern planned pastoralism enhanced with holistic management practices that mimic the co-evolutionary conditions of grasslands and herd animals.

Summary claims of a paleo-carnivore/holistic management synthesis

  1. Humans tend to live best mainly on a blend of fatty acids (fat) and amino acids (protein) derived from animal products. Animal products are the best sources of energy, structural materials, and highly bio-available micronutrients for humans. In contrast, eating large amounts of carbohydrates, especially processed ones, and artificial industrial foods such as seed oils, produce gradual metabolic derangement, foremost chronic insulin resistance and its many associated degenerative conditions. Even vegetables, generally considered the unquestionable banner of good health, lack much usable nutrition at all per unit of weight and carry a range of irritants and anti-nutrients (chemicals that block the absorption of nutrients), evolved in a chemical warfare strategy to protect them against being eaten by punishing those who eat them.

  2. The best single source for the nutrients humans thrive on is large herd animals. Seafood is also a good resource, though generally lower in fat (a con, not a pro). Early Homo sapiens and some of their cousins may have contributed to the extinctions of many of their preferred larger, higher-fat species long ago, such as paleo elephants and mammoths, but we still have cattle and buffaloes, which work reasonably well. We also now have property rights (to some degree), which defeat tragedy-of-the-commons overuse issues. Notice the word commons in the phrase "tragedy of the commons." It is there for reason: the tragedy happens when legitimate property rights are too poorly defined and defended.

  3. The best way to halt and reverse mass desertification and alleviate related water crises is to manage large herds in ways that sufficiently mimic the natural movement patterns of their original evolutionary contexts. This is also so independently of food production and human health issues.

  4. Humane and holistic ranching practices provide ideal living environments for herd and other animals. Compared to their evolutionary contexts, animals on holistically managed multi-species farms are protected from random and violent death from predators. Their supplies of food and water are reliable and secured.

  5. Mass grain agriculture practices lead to mass destruction of wildlife and long-term soil deterioration. Some of this grain is fed to animals. Grain feed-lot methods are associated with poorer health and living conditions for animals. The grain system replaces multi-species environments with monocultures, which are vulnerable to disease and soil degeneration and require constant attention, often including irrigation and farm machinery, to prop up. In contrast, cows eat grass all by themselves and grass grows all by itself (a little help from holistic management better replicates natural herd movement patterns that co-evolved with predators to support natural grassland water retention, even in dry climates).

5. Implications

A concluding summary must be far, far shorter than the journey itself. For understanding of food production: biological/ecological problems require biological/ecological solutions. Understand where plants and animals have come from and how they co-evolved, then apply that understanding to modern practices. This includes herd animals, grasslands, and people too! For personal use, the principles are: eat meat, drink water, lift heavy, sleep, play, and sprint once in awhile. These are quite reminiscent of Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint laws, but the ones on food are further specified.

These practices appear to have dimensions beyond physical pragmatism. Many who have tried a plant-free diet for a sufficient period to transition (30 days is often recommended for a trial) have reported profound health and well-being improvements, not only in a range of physical conditions, but also in psychiatric and emotional difficulties. One practitioner in 2009 described the improvement in emotional state after starting an all-meat diet thus: "The noise has stopped and the music has begun."

Many also report a profound sense of freedom from former obsessions with food. All of the decision fatigue associated with whether to eat this or that, when, and how much, vanishes. Former cravings decline and eventually fade. Faced with foods that one had previously considered objects of craving, it is hardly possible to believe that one actually ate those things regularly in the past.

Hours formerly spent on food can now be spent on engaging productively with the world and pursuing one's missions. As Dr. Shawn Baker put it, “If you look at any other animal on the planet, they aren’t looking at a menu and scratching their head.” As human animals with oversized brains and imaginations, we all have better things to do than spending inordinate amounts of time managing and balancing a long list of plant addictions. Freedom from them is possible. The power of being human can be unleashed from the travails of plant-consumption/plant-addiction management.

Hunters act and act smartly. Human hunters have thrived to an apex level through our wits and ability to work together. The "apex diet" is both the origin of this capability and continues to support it today.

I kept references in the text to a minimum for readability. The following page provides links to some of the best resources I have found on these subjects, including papers, blogs, articles, and lectures. To follow up on the many topics and perspectives in the foregoing synthesis, continue with Evolutionary Health Resources.

[This article was revised from its original version, mostly shortened and revised for clarity, on 2 July 2018].

Only the faster profits: A powerful health measure and why it is unadvertised

My journey in nutrition science studies and personal nutrition practice over about the past six years has been characterized by “punctuated equilibrium,” long periods of stability, with minor updates from my readings and small alterations to practice. But every couple of years, it seems, such equilibrium is slammed into a rather different shape over just a few days.

What follows is about a book that just did this. It has not overturned anything I was doing before, but has lifted my understanding and led me to try some important practice modifications.

Dr. Jason Fung has produced a new book that is vitally important, well written, argued from the highest quality available evidence, and not lacking in careful doses of wit and humor. This is not just another weight to further depress already strained diet-section bookshelves, it is a brilliant yet concise scientific integration delivered so that a general audience can also benefit directly.

The Obesity Code (March 2016; foreword by the legendary Professor Tim Noakes) states, and largely follows through on, a preference for rigorous controlled human trials over the kinds of associational, epidemiological, and often scientifically weak “studies” (sometimes of a few rats) that typically grab headlines with hyped and unwarranted inferences. The book's central theory does what a good scientific theory should. It explains all the relevant high-quality evidence in a systematic, logical, and accessible way. It also addresses the oversupply of low-quality evidence and non-evidence that leads astray. For hardcore readers, the endnotes run 32 pages, no small proportion of which are research journal citations.

Context: Before I read this book

In October 2010, my long-term general interest in healthful nutrition jumped to the next level when I read The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. This kicked off some major personal changes and a side quest to read in nutrition and exercise science to examine controversies with practical implications for what I decide to do in my daily life.

The intellectual side of this journey included Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007) and Why We Get Fat (2011) by Gary Taubes; numerous books and articles by Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, and others; biochemical metabolism research; and evolutionary health reasoning and related paleo-archeological controversies.

The next major step came in 2013, when I shifted to a ketogenic approach based on the work of Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, two career researchers and pioneering experts on nutritional ketosis and exercise performance. Compared to the Primal Blueprint framework recommendations, this entails reducing daily carbs further to under 20g and increasing natural fats to replace that sugar energy while maintaining moderate protein. This is often labeled “low-carb, high-fat, and moderate protein,” or LCHF. This is not your cringeworthy ketogenic lab-chow from classical research and medical use. It is all quite real food.

To assemble my own thoughts from such widely varied sources of research, inspiration, and practice, I created a webpage called Evolutionary Health. There I summarize the current state of my views and link to standout resources. I update this from time to time with information new to me, and refinements of my working synthesis. That page includes material on food production and environment, particularly desertification. It now includes multiple references to Fung’s work.

Until now, if asked what to read for ways to improve health through nutrition, my top starter book recommendations have been The Primal Blueprint, mentioned above, and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living (2011) and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (2012) by Volek and Phinney. I then recommend The Big Fat Surprise (2014) by Nina Teicholz, another great contributor in the tradition of Taubes—exposing the modern nutrition emperors to be shockingly underdressed. This adds a larger scientific and historical context, including how modern conventional wisdom on nutrition has been formed: far more by politics, loose intuition, and charisma than by legitimate scientific evidence.

Now, however, I might start people right off with The Obesity Code.

Pinpointing the root of metabolic syndrome

What causes obesity? What are the best weight control practices? Everybody thinks they know the answer. Fung demonstrates that this “everybody,” such as it is, remains quite confused.

The book presents a single central theory of overweight. While this extends to diabetes and metabolic syndrome more generally, the book focuses on overweight as the epicenter of the modern long-term degenerative symptom cluster. It argues that the central underlying phenomenon in obesity is insulin resistance. Successful treatments, especially if they are to have lasting healthy effects, must lower insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is analogous to drug tolerance. The more of a drug one has taken over a longer period, the higher the dose needed for a similar effect. Likewise, the more time the body must swim in evolutionarily novel quantities of insulin, the more likely it is to up resistance. Such resistance is also stubborn; it rises much more easily than it falls. A self-reinforcing pattern of elevated insulin and elevated resistance begins. When insulin-producing beta cells can no longer keep up in this death race and begin to fail, we call that “type 2 diabetes.” The conventional treatment? Just inject more insulin; the race must go on. But the patient keeps deteriorating.

Genetic differences and age both impact individual insulin resistance response. This helps explain wide variations among people eating similarly and for the same person at different ages. This insight rescues a too-simple carbohydrate-obesity theory from the obvious rebuttal: just point to some carb-eating thin people. The book also emphasizes the better-known distinction between the effects of carbs in natural forms versus those in modern processed and refined forms.

But first, how did we get here and why are we still here?

It would be relatively simple to explain some measures to lower insulin resistance, such as some of those practiced at Fung’s Intensive Dietary Management program. However, the complication he faces, and faces up to squarely in this book, is that entire industries, bodies of officialdom and authority, and entrenched conventional wisdom all combine to promote and sell methods that either do not reduce insulin resistance, or raise it still further. Treating advanced type 2 diabetes with insulin injections is partly comparable to treating an advanced alcoholic with a steady rotgut supply. It patches some symptoms, even as it gradually worsens the condition and leads to further deterioration.

Official bodies and industry interest groups have pushed failing methods and theories relentlessly for decades (whether intentionally or unknowingly does not change the outcomes). Massive failures to promote health never dissuade; more of the same is always their answer. Some “success,” however, is still visible. It shows up in untold billions on the income statements of 1) ag and food companies selling profitable processed products that gradually sicken people and 2) pharma and healthcare organizations producing products and services to treat the resulting chronic degenerative symptoms, mostly without addressing causes. With causes untreated and the sick getting sicker, the massive sums involved not only keep flowing, but keep expanding.

The book must therefore also take the time to expose and refute common, widely accepted, well-funded, officially promoted, and dead wrong claims and practices. In each case, it demonstrates how the highest quality available evidence, common experience, and logic show that conventional weight management methods fail—and that they fail is probably the best that can be said of them.

Don’t just do something, stop

The book’s most important practice implication is less about food and more about the need for its periodic absence. In health, politics, and some other fields, people tend to respond to serious problems with a somewhat desperate “just do something” attitude. But the most helpful measure might instead be to stop doing something. Rather than “solving” a problem, what may be required is to stop creating its causes. In this case, if there is too much eating too often, stop doing it. And there’s a word for that—fasting.

A fasting period is nothing more than the time between eating sessions. Longer pauses can begin to take on names such as intermittent fasting (IF) and still longer pauses just fasting. So in this sense everyone fasts already, Fung reassures. The variation is in how long and how often. Fasting’s true opposite, it comes to appear, is frequent snacking.

Fung notes that fasting has been promoted and practiced through cultural traditions the world over for thousands of years (That, I would add, might mostly just reflect the duration of available records). Fasting has been promoted for health, clarity of mind, and spiritual refinement, often carried through religious practice traditions.

He also does not shy away from explaining that fasting and IF are unique in important ways from a politico-economic standpoint. The person who fasts benefits substantially, but his corresponding cost for this is better than zero. He saves both money and time. He gains freedom through reduced frequency of buying food, preparing it, eating it, and cleaning up, which can add up to large blocks of time and attention.

For example, I have moved mainly to a 23-hour daily fast framework for now (with occasionally longer stretches as well). This simply means eating one meal a day during an approximately one-hour period. Simple as can be. I may next try alternate-day fasting (eating normally one day and not at all the next day) to compare the effects. The latter pattern has been commonly employed in research trials.

The implication is that no one else besides the person fasting stands to profit from it. Only the faster profits. No pharma company sells more of its drug (some may sell less). No food company sells more of any boxed creation (some may sell less). No elaborate diets must be studied and followed, no calorie counting apps employed, no juicing machine bought and fed with plant carcasses, no special shopping list assembled, no exotic ingredients ordered online.

Of course, Fung, a practicing physician and kidney specialist, is careful to warn that at minimum those already on metabolic medications, foremost insulin, must work closely with a physician. This may entail careful adjustments, which should be done only under proper supervision. Significantly low blood sugar is a particularly dangerous condition that can follow from mis-coordination of drug dosages with current health state and eating patterns.

Fasting versus calorie reduction

This book clarifies that just “eating less,” as a method, does not deliver the positive effects of fasting; it has opposite effects on the relevant all-important regulatory hormones. Under calorie reduction, metabolism drops to compensate for the stable lower-energy environment. Metabolic rate then stays lower long afterwards, which explains both stalling progress and later regain.

With true fasting, however, metabolism either stays level or increases. This seems congruent from an evolutionary standpoint. A few days of bad hunting (no food at all) means it is time to get out there and hunt, and do it more effectively than before. Sitting in the cave and getting cold, moody, and depressed is not going to help.

Likewise, the book recommends eating normally (though ideally also low carb) when one does eat. That means not being hungry after the meal, as can happen under conscious calorie-cutting methods. Readjusting the modern unnaturally feasting-heavy “feast and famine” balance away from too much feasting should not, in this view, entail skipping the feasting parts altogether, just extending the fasting phases.

The author emphasizes the distinction between lowering insulin and reducing insulin resistance. Just lowering insulin by changing food content might help, but might not always be enough to fully reverse an existing condition. Chronically high insulin is among the causes of elevated insulin resistance, but influencing insulin resistance itself must remain the real prize. A focus on insulin, per se, then is one way to get off track, a false summit.

The book discusses effects on lean mass. The trial research again shows that fasting has important effects that are opposite to those of calorie reduction within conventional meal timing patterns. It is calorie reduction that leads to lean wasting (“starvation mode”), while fasting does not. Fasting stimulates junk protein breakdown for recycling as well as human growth hormone release, a build-oriented combination. A steady calorie reduction program never gets around to these things. All the way down to actual severe starvation, it never generates the hormonal, metabolic, and cognitive benefits of fasting.

Some other nods to tradition

The book also mentions how certain traditional practices hold up well when judged against the insulin-resistance theory. Eating together at mealtimes, and not in between, automatically sets up longer fasting periods. This is just the opposite of the frequent eating and snacking practices that snack sellers push.

Likewise, widespread traditional uses of vinegar and fermented foods are given a nod based on experimental evidence that vinegar moderates insulin response. For example, the penchant for Japanese cuisine to combine rice with pickles and to make sushi (vinegar-soaked rice) likely affords some protection from rice’s insulin spiking characteristics.

Such factors may help further clarify the “Asian rice paradox.” A simple carbohydrate-obesity theory struggles to explain why East Asians eating large amounts of rice did not become obese in the 20th century. Traditional eating patterns, activity patterns, and food combinations may well all have contributed. Genetic influences on insulin resistance are also possible contributors.

More recently, however, these same populations have started gaining weight, and diabetes is on the rise. This coincides with increased consumption of sugar, flour, and other processed foods, greater fast food intake, more sedentary occupations, and a snacking culture that can spread with processed snack food marketing and distribution. Not only do snack foods (and with them snacking) tend to shorten traditional fasting periods, but most of these items are made almost exclusively from insulogenic processed derivatives of cheap (and often government subsidized) agricultural grain crops, foremost sugar, wheat, and corn.

Optimization, and the final defeat of the “thermodynamics” refrain

For established low-carbers still not entirely happy with their body compositions and looking for more optimization (like me), Fung argues that while LCHF is a powerful approach, it is not the most powerful one. Each food, except perhaps pure refined fat, generates some insulin response, though this varies depending on the food. Regardless, there is no way to beat fasting at getting insulin down to rock bottom and keeping it there for long stretches, providing an environment in which insulin resistance can also gradually sink.

It is insulin resistance, Fung argues, that directs the body’s fat storage “set point,” the fat composition level the body fights to keep and return toward. In any long-running war against a conscious, conventional “eat less; exercise more” strategy, the body’s homeostatic set point always wins. Cutting calories can appear to win a few battles, but this cannot last. Calorie cutting, depending on what is actually eaten in a given program, can also sooner or later lead to weakness and gradually advancing malnutrition. Worse, the stress of being regularly hungry, cold, and malnourished can backfire further by raising stress hormones—which also stimulate insulin.

The way forward is to address the set point itself, and that means modifying insulin resistance. With this, Fung establishes why and how attempts to reduce weight by merely lowering calories within existing meal patterns fail in the long run, ending in regain, often to a level above the starting weight.

And as for the ever-reliable “but, it’s all just thermodynamics” refrain, which insists that weight control is nothing more than regulating calories in and calories out as in a lab beaker, it is true that caloric balance does change with weight loss following from fasting. However, that change is an effect, not a method. Fung demonstrates how and why methods with long-term success must treat the chronic hormonal condition of insulin resistance. Doing so allows the body’s fat storage set point to fall back to a more natural level to which the body then happily self-regulates.

This means that sustainable changes to caloric balance follow from a set point change but do not necessarily cause it, contra standard advice. The body has far more tricks to fight back with than consciously calorie-cutting dieters can possibly overcome for long. The more they fight using the usual failing methods, the stronger the body’s countermeasures become. Thus, seemingly unassailable advice to “just eat less,” offered as a method for change, is worse than useless. And as Taubes had also argued in Why We Get Fat, naive misapplication of a simple physics concept to a complex homeostatic system serves only to support blaming obesity victims on the basis of scientifically unteathered and even primitively moralizing causal theories.

Could be better combined with LCHF literature

Something emphasized in the LCHF literature, but less so in this book, is that being in nutritional ketosis is already a quasi-fasting state compared to the common contemporary glycolytic (“carb burning”) state. It is far easier for those already in nutritional ketosis to simply not bother eating at times. They can start and continue fasting while hardly noticing, especially when compared to typical carb burners in pursuit of their next glucose fix.

People in a dominant glycolytic state transitioning to either nutritional ketosis or to fasting (fasting ketosis) can each report some similar transitional symptoms and discomforts such as headaches and low energy. People already in a dominant lipolytic (“fat burning”) state, however, have only to go from nutritional ketosis to fasting ketosis, a far milder transition. Mainly advising fasting for people coming right from a conventional diet could run them into challenges. Starting with nutritional ketosis makes fasting easier.

But beginning either practice still tends to require an initial transition. In favor of a fasting-first approach, fasting is much simpler to execute and monitor. It just involves not doing something. Changing the content of one’s habitual diet entails more ongoing decisions, leaving more room for errors and subtle program regressions.

On balance, both LCHF and fasting are important and mutually reinforcing. Either could come first or they could be adopted together. There are various pros and cons in emphasizing one or the other to newcomers, a question mainly of strategy and practical experience.

An integrative milestone

This book has enabled me to take what information and practices I had already filed away as solid and useful, and revise that totality into a better-integrated picture. This helps me better harmonize contributions from several schools of thought within the broadly defined evolutionary nutrition movement. Fung suggests that some sub-groups that tend to engage in in-fighting are probably just each right about their own particular puzzle piece. Now we get a clearer look at the frame photo for that whole puzzle at a single glance.

Perhaps the most encouraging message from this book is that, unlike basically every “diet” strategy, there is good reason in existing high-grade research not to expect regain from a fasting approach. Fasting and LCHF to target insulin resistance are quite distinct from the many conscious caloric balance variants that have failed long-term so consistently and so epically for decades. In addition, evidence is also accumulating to indicate likely protective, and especially preventative, effects of fasting on other “diseases of civilization,” including neurodegenerative cognitive conditions, heart disease, and cancer.

We can try to fight the body’s fat composition set point without changing it—and many, many have—but only at great cost and effort and with a near guarantee of long-term failure. A few battles may be won, but the war’s outcome is already clear. The set point wins. Conventional calorie restriction does change the set point—it raises it! This makes apparent temporary successes from calorie-reduction programs Pyrrhic victories.

Armed with methods that can lower the set point instead, we can finally get our bodies and ourselves back on the same side. This is the central message of this brilliant, heroic, and accessible book in a field of crucial importance to human well-being.

REVIEW | Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas

The first half of the book is on nutrition and is quite good, backed up by a lot of evidence and careful referencing. The second half turns more speculative. You can tell because the scientific references simply start to vanish, leaving the author speaking of her opinions. This is where we start talking about cell phones killing us and a few other much more questionable assertions about which no conclusive evidence exists one way or the other that is popular with the, what is it now? Neo-New-Age?

This is especially disappointing and perhaps even dangerous because the nutrition stuff gets you into a rational mood, the author builds some credibility, and then the whole thing seems to start sliding into technophobic imagination, which might drag some readers down with it (the one's who didn't notice the precipitous decline in scientific references). There are plenty of better established dangers, and mixing in what seems to amount to groundless technophobia undermines the credibility of the otherwise solid nutrition research.

You can get some good ideas out of this book, but if you aren't careful, you might also get some quite weak ones mixed in. Overall, I would say that more solid presentations are available that do not get as lost after halftime, and these should be prioritized. My own list after reading a lot of books in this field reads: Sisson, Taubes, Wolf, and Cordain (the newest one; he's revised a few things).

REVIEW | Focused progress with Body by Science, but integration with proper running methods should be possible

Many major muscle groups in my body are still sore (moderately) forty-eight hours after those “12 minutes.” Significant adaptations are underway. Now I only need the patience to sit back and let those adaptations proceed, day after day, until next week, according to John Little and Doug McGuff, authors of Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week.

They argue that 12 minutes a week is not just invented for marketing hype, it is literally the best program they have found for increasing strength and conditioning (and the marketing people at the publisher then of course picked up on it). They make a case for viewing exercise as a form of medicine that can have an optimal dosage range for the effect sought. The high intensity of their program is potent, but optimal, medicine and requires a substantial recovery period during which the body can make the adaptations that are asked of it in those 12 minutes.

Doing this kind of training longer or more often would simply render the body unable to fully adapt to the workout and essentially become a waste of time. I would say that what they are suggesting is that exercise is a conversation with the body. We ask it to adapt, but then we have to give it the time and resources to respond fully to the request. There is individual variation of course, but a week is the typical best recovery time from this workout that has emerged out of practical experience working with large numbers of people using this program over years.

This is a worthwhile volume in a powerful genre that combines good biochemistry knowledge with practical experience in actually training large numbers of human beings in a healthful direction. One of the authors is a physician and both run gyms specializing in the methods they present in the book. They explain the foundations for their program in muscle and energetic biochemistry in appropriate detail and explain the program itself in sufficient detail that one could reasonably start on a version of it after reading the book and accessing the required equipment. They discuss in the final chapters how their program relates to other sports and how it has proven equally good for all ages, especially perhaps, the elderly.

The authors make the case that a short burst of very high-intensity strength training done no more than once a week creates the greatest adaptive response not only in the muscles, but in the entire energy system (so called “cardio”), than any other form of exercise. Thus the cost/benefit picture for this approach is very favorable compared to other forms of exercise if improved health and capabilities are the goal. Moreover, this program should be particularly helpful with body composition due to the way it draws out stored muscle glycogen to greater depths, including in those last-ditch “emergency” muscle fibers that we do not normally access, therefore greatly increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in muscle cells for days after that single workout.

On the downside, I found the anti-running thread weakly argued. I can sympathize with anti-“running,” wherein “running” is understood in a conventional way, as the authors do, as essentially a practice of chronic mis- and over-training of a basically unhealthy form of movement, that is, heel-strike running performed in highly unnatural "running shoes."

The conventional way, however, is hardly all that is to be said for running. There are other ways to run that are healthier, for example, the running methods described in the Pose Method of Triathlon Techniques, which I have adopted over the past year along with the use of minimalist footwear (I have discovered that SoleRunners work much better for me than the vaunted Vibram FiveFingers). As Pose Method developer Nicholas Romanov argues, running can and should also be approached as a skill sport, rather than a mere “pounding of the pavement,” which is of course horrible. Thus, the authors have made a good case for their own program, but they are much weaker in using that case to undermine certain other approaches and activities with which they are less well-versed.

Intelligent training methods, including those described in the book, could also be applied to develop more healthful and effective running programs. A more refined approach to running could be addressed along with the other "skill sports" in the context that the book provides. The strength methods could also be adapted for running-specific support. The book came out behind the curve of the growing reconception of running as as skill sport with more and less healthful ways of being performed.

Can I combine their insights and their 12-minute strength program with my evolving running program? I have some ideas on how to do it somewhere between Mark Sisson's recent advice on marathon training and a BBS-based running support program, and that is what I intend to attempt in the coming months.