Paleo Crossfit vs. Vegetarian Tae Kwan-Do

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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

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By Dave Asprey

  • 1 in 3000 people will be able to train & eat anyway they want and their particular bodies will adapt it to performance. They are rare, but the kind of strength you are talking about in our vegetarian TKD expert does exist… he is clearly one of those outliers and it would be frightening to see what he could do on the BP Diet AND proper training.

    Too many people suffer from “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” syndrome = “After it, therefore because of it”. This is especially true when talking about exercise.

    The distinction needs to be made between exercise and training. Training is that stimulus which promotes the body’s systems to respond more efficiently to work.

    Not just bigger muscles, or lower heart rate, or ability to do some cross-fit circuit faster than anyone else, or good body composition or the ability to break boards or put your foot behind your head. 😉 You need to train so the body’s systems respond more efficiently to work. Without the proper demand, the organs have no need to perform optimally and therefore do not. Neither do the muscles. Neither does the nervous system, the endocrine system… the list goes on.

    Bio-hackers have done an amazing job with hacking many things, but the advice coming out about physical training is the equivalent to eating pastured pork and poultry vs grass-fed beef. Sure, its better than factory farmed deep fried chicken nuggets with tomatoes, peppers and onions… but its not Grass Fed Butter with Salmon and Guacamole.

    People should be training so their muscles turn on and turn off as fast as possible, using all of the involved muscles, evolving the energy systems the way they are supposed to be, to get the results that you want. A program specifically designed for you to adapt… as a whole system, not just bigger biceps or a smaller waist.

    When you do this, a lot of interesting things occur. You get to hack your brain and energy systems through the demand side of training, not just the supply side of diet and neural-stimulation.

    I think the next great discovery of the bio-hacking community is training. Not just cross-fit or breaking boards or being lean.

    There is another way. And the combination of this type of training and the BP Diet should be astounding… Look forward to talking with you about it Dave.

    (This post brought to you by.. Bulletproof Coffee “The only way to start your day”)

    • Thanks for the post Art. I absolutely agree with you. The point should be made however, that specificity is needed to be your best at your chosen sport. Things like Crossfit or any other form of training will not produce your fastest possible marathon without running at longer distances.

      You make an excellent point about how people confuse the cause of their fitness with whatever they happen to be doing. A lot of people believe that because they get fitter doing one method – that’s the best possible way.

      I’m interested to hear what you believe the “proper demand” is for the body. I am actually not a huge fan of Crossfit for other reasons, one of which being that it’s not very customized. Feel free to email me any time and I’d love to talk biohacking 🙂

      Thanks

      -Armi

    • Fran

      Right on!
      I just read a lengthy article the other day in Men’s Health pertaining to this very concept of “adaptation training”,,,,,so I feel compelled to share it here,,,,,I hope that is OK and not too far off the topic here.

      http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/men-who-live-forever

      Peace,
      Fran

  • Matt

    You have seriously got to stop touting Crossfit, Dave. You yourself have admitted that fitness and exercise are not your priorities, so don’t pretend like you know what you’re talking about. Crossfit is a sub-par training system. There is a reason all the CF creators that are worth their salt (coughnotGlassmancough) have pulled their names from Crossfit. There are better ways to train out there, certainly more “bulletproof” ways.

    • Matt,

      Thanks for posting your comment. While Dave doesn’t do a ton of exercise, he knows biochemistry and physiology. He did not say Crossfit was the best way to train. He basically said it was more functional than just being strong, and I agree.

      I also agree that Crossfit is a sub-par method of training. You’re absolutely right that there are better ways. You also have to understand that it works for some people and is far better than many other training plans.

      We recently interviewed one of the best fitness trainers in the nation: James FitzGerald of Optimum Performance Training. I hope you enjoy the interview when we post it on Upgraded Self Radio.

      Thanks again for your comment and feedback, it makes us think 🙂

      -Armi

    • Dave Asprey

      Matt, fitness is a priority for me, just not exercise (right now). I spent years working out, including lifting, various cardio programs, and advanced yoga to see what worked to lose weight and be strong. The fact that I have done none of that for the last 2 years as part of my “calories in minus calories out is a lie” experiment does not mean that I’m unaware of how the body responds to exercise. There are guys who spend all their time training athletes; I’m not one of those obviously. But for normal people who are not pro athletes, my approach lets you look like you work out a lot more than you actually do, and if you do work out, it makes the exercise more effective. My interest is in doing the minimum amount of work that results in maximum gains to get you to a point of looking and feeling good and being capable of more than most. To your point, Crossfit is a branded offering and it’s controversial and accused of being “cult like.’ However, look at the data in this post – this is from a real trainer, a pro.

    • Justin

      Matt, I would love to hear of these better ways to train. And on what grounds is CrossFit sub-par?

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  • Just a quick testimonial for Dave’s approach–one of my friends has a family tendency towards high cholesterol. To combat it, his doctors put him on a vegan diet.

    In contrast, I’ve been following Dave’s principles for the past 18 months, and my HDL levels recently tested at 110, which basically means I’m immune to heart disease. Meanwhile, nuts, dark chocolate, avocado, and butter are stalwarts in my diet. I’m sure I get at least 50% of my calories from fat. And I’ve never felt better.

    • Dave Asprey

      Chris, your HDL is 110? Rock on, my friend! Thanks for the testimonial, and I’m so glad you’re continuing to do well on the diet. Time for lunch soon!

  • Lawrence Farnsworth

    Anecdotal, anti-fact nonsense.

    “It will dramatically decrease the quality and quantity of your life, especially as you age”
    Vegetarians & Vegans live longer than meat-eaters. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6710896/Vegetarian-low-protein-diet-could-be-key-to-long-life.html

    The only people saying otherwise are the Weston A Price Foundation (a shill for the meat industry), or snake-oil salesman like Asprey who are trying to sell drastically over-priced products.

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  • Jay

    Very interesting reading although I’m not sure what is meant by you are less ‘powerful by making a vegetarian choice..’ Huh. So because you chose not to eat meat you are by nature wimpy? Bullshit. What’s more powerful than compassion?

  • Shelly

    Explain the beautifully built vegan and vegetarian body builders out there. In my practice I see all sorts of eating styles and I can say that it’s so individualized – one size does not fit all. When I went vegan and then settled on ovo vegetarian (after 50 years as a raised-on-a-farm omnivore) my 20-year insomnia went away. Go figure!