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Paleo Crossfit vs. Vegetarian Tae Kwan-Do

By: Dave Asprey

This has to be one of my coolest blog posts ever, because I didn’t write most of it. It began with a facebook post I wrote lamenting how sad it was to watch an obese vegetarian spend $150 on fruit, when that would buy you about 40 sticks of Kerry Gold grass-fed butter.  It ended with two total bad-asses debating how nutrition influences strength vs power.

Bad-ass #1 is Kirez Reynolds, owner of Hammer Crossfit in Peoria, Arizona. This guy is tough – he’s an ex-Special Forces guy who I first met at the BIL Conference when he gave a talk explaining how Crossfit power-focused exercise made him a faster marathoner now than he was 10+ years ago…when he trained daily with long runs and heavy backpacks. Kirez is a recovered vegetarian who now eats grass-fed things with faces – pretty much standard Paleo, which is close to the Bulletproof Diet but not identical.

Bad-ass #2 is Charles Foley, a shockingly energetic highly ranked international Taekwan-do competitor, long time friend and multiple-times-successful entrepreneur. I met him when I tried to buy one of his companies. He eats a vegetarian diet that uses some of the Bulletproof Diet principles.

Kirez: “Vegetarians are fat and powerless”:

Find a vegetarian who does NOT live on grains, especially breads, and you’ll find a skinny vegetarian. A synonym for vegetarian is ‘bagelatarian’. And of those who appear skinny… you need to familiarize yourself with the term “skinny fat”. You may be calling “skinny” people who have near-zero muscle and 30% body fat who can wear a size 4 or 6. Besides their high body fat, also check their cholesterol, blood pressure, testosterone. All are dismal.  The best test is this: ask them to jump onto a 6″ high step, or jump up to a bar 6″ above their reach. Vegetarians have no power, which is to say, useful strength.

Charles: “I am an ass-kicking vegetarian and I’m older than you”:

As one case in point, I’m one of those “vegetarians with no power.” Now, I just turned 50, so I have some excuse…however, even us old vegetarians do have some “useful power”. Although I haven’t eaten meat (or fish, or poultry) since 1996, I train in Taekwon-Do daily, I do 200 pushups/480 crunches daily (in sets of 50 and 120, respectively), and I regularly spar with 20 – 30 year old kids. I pretty much hold my own, and can break 8 – 10 1″ boards with either hands or feet.

I love to rock climb, ascending 60′ – 80′ rock faces, and lift weights with my high-school son (he’s a 6’2″, 180lb All-Conference wrestler who is definitely NOT a vegetarian) and we lift the same weights (not too light). So, I’m thinking the statement about “vegetarians have no power, which is to say useful strength” may be a stretch. By the way, I fully support Dave’s Bulletproof Diet, and think that you CAN do that as a vegetarian.

At this point, Charles peels off to close another big deal in his rapidly growing company. But Kirez isn’t done, and he writes some of the most convincing arguments I’ve ever seen about why eating a vegetarian diet is inferior to a Bulletproof – or at least Paleo – one. His argument is that you can measure the difference in power between the two groups.

Kirez:

Charles, In the last few years, in only my own practice (I’ve hosted/coached/judged hundreds more outside of my own practice), I’ve trained, coached, judged and administered workouts to more than 600 people. Not athletes, but very generalized population. I have administered over 10,250 workouts now. The workouts are structured so that one effort can be meaningfully compared to the next, and I am obsessive about detail. Crunches and pushups would NOT cut it (crunches are a very poor exercise, and though I did 600 pushups in 20 minutes just a couple years ago, I know that by using my now much better method, I wouldn’t get more than 3-400 because of range of motion standardization. This requires not strength and stamina, but power and stamina.
The power requirement gets a far greater adaptive hormonal response — we make athletes stronger much faster. In the process, I’ve come to recognize the vegetarians and the endurance athletes. Their efforts are pretty normal, their range of motion is normal, their strength is normal. There is of course normal range of variation. But we don’t see a big difference in the “Day 1″ times (a well-composed workout that measures strength and conditioning without being skewed by technique/skill). Then I go to check some other movements… ask them to do box jumps, and jump up and hang from a bar 6” above their reach. And these are the tests that suddenly separate the vegetarians and endurance athletes from the rest. It took me more than a year to learn that this was what was going on.
The 1st notable example was Megan, who like the others was in the normal range for pushups, pullups, squats — stuff we use the first and second day because we get measurements unskewed by technique or skill. But she could not jump on top of a 12″, then an 8″, block. She could not jump to grab a bar that was only 3″ above her highest reach. I trained Megan for a month before I learned she was vegetarian (strange it took me that long). The next week, something different happened: one of my trainers was working with Megan, and I heard sounds I’d never heard before — she was breathing really hard. It took a few more sessions before we figured out what happened. She had never moved so fast in any workouts before, and now she was moving really fast. We saw a sudden jump in her performance and times. She confessed that she had started eating meat. Three months later, she was doing box jumps onto a 24″ tire.
In the 18 months since, we have seen this example repeated no less than 12 times (vegetarians) and about 7 times with endurance athletes.

While I (Kirez)  was still a vegetarian I competed as a gymnast, ran a 36:50 10K, bench pressed 335. My case is much less impressive, however, because I was 16-21 then, and youth gets away with a lot. Now my “fitness” is measured much more precisely and voluminously, and many of the measurements wouldn’t be meaningful — monostructural activities like crunches aren’t as meaningful as combined workouts, or what we do in crossfit where movements are measured, time to complete is measured, masses are measured. And yes, now my fitness is dramatically greater than it was when I was 20.

I spoke of power, however, which is different from strength. Power is work divided by time.To measure work you need to speak accurately about distance acted across and force exerted or mass moved. The example of breaking boards might be an excellent example of power (it’s not measured — we’re not talking oak, nor balsa, but even if we were we wouldn’t know how much power is involved apart from technique — but 8-10 1″ boards certainly sounds like fantastic power as well as well-honed, efficient technique.) Anyway, Charles is an example of a fantastic athlete and I greatly admire how he’s continued to excel. If he was properly introduced to crossfit he’d absolutely love it, and probably excel at it.

So there we have it. Being a vegetarian is bad for your power even though, as Charles shows, some vegetarian athletes can be strong. I’d submit that things that are bad for your power in a gym are bad for your power in the boardroom, in the bedroom, and just about anywhere else strength, fortitude, and focus are important. There are amazingly strong people like Charles who show almost no problem eating a ton of tofu, kicking ass in a dojo, and then doing it again in a boardroom. I do wonder how Charles does it – if I lived his life, I’d lose my power very quickly.

That said, some readers of this blog are die-hard vegetarians clamoring for a vegetarian Bulletproof Diet. Sadly, you can’t do that because the Bulletproof Executive is about doing *everything* you can do to be more powerful and resilient, and choosing vegetarian violates that principle. But what I can do is create a harm-minimization strategy for my vegetarian friends who want to be as Bulletproof as possible given their power-limiting (and topsoil destroying) dietary choices. So I am creating a “least harmful, most bulletproof possible” vegetarian diet. It just won’t make you as strong and lean as you can be on the real Bulletproof Diet. Stay tuned.

This last bit isn’t politically correct, but it’s what I see (having tried a raw vegan diet for months on end). Veganism (as opposed to vegetarianism) is an eating disorder along the lines of anorexia. It will dramatically decrease the quality and quantity of your life, especially as you age, and it is an indication that you do not think you’re worth the impact you have on the planet. The cure? Eat some butter. Increase your own power and use it to cause  positive change on the planet far in excess of the impact you have on other life forms here, even when you eat them! I stand by Henry Miller’s words, “The goal of life is not to possess power, but to radiate it.” To do anything less would be wasting the precious resources I consume on this planet.

Useful links:

Crossfit introduction: http://journal.crossfit.co?m/2011/05/afpurposeofcf.tp?l
Crossfit for people over 50 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4aYFIQWUb0
For over-50 athletes, Kirez’s best example of athletes doing what he trains: http://media.crossfit.com/?cf-video/Games2010_Masters?WomenE3_FranSD.mov
2 of Kirez’s clients, over 50,  competing: http://media.crossfit.com/?cf-video/Games2010_Masters?E1_Men.mov