As one of the leading advocates for ancestral health and a long-time CrossFit fan, I’ve been disheartened by the widening gap between the two methodologies. Now, different ancestral health schools of thought follow different modus operandi, but at its core ancestral health is flexible and functional, and I’ve grown increasingly convinced there is a way to merge the two.
So, I began working with CrossFit Coaches and Box owners to understand the specific nutrient and performance requirements of the CrossFitter and to figure out how eating and living in terms of ancestral health guidelines – in accordance with evolutionary biology – could satisfy those requirements. I’m convinced ancestral health and CrossFit are not just compatible, but also complementary.
The orthodox paleo diet is a strict eating regimen based on the dietary patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But, it doesn’t allow for any flexibility and is a much too archaic and narrow version of ancestral health to support CrossFit’s unique demands on the body.
Many CrossFitters have turned their backs on traditional paleo because it fails to address their concerns, like getting enough calories and carbs, and avoiding burnout. A paleo diet just can’t seem to supply the energy needed to fuel CrossFit training. But, that doesn’t mean a more malleable ancestral health approach won’t.
Ancestral health allows for customization and adaptation, making it the perfect CrossFit companion. After all, ancestral health enthusiasts and CrossFitters tend to share a love of meat, fat, plants and primal movements, like lifting, squatting, pushing and pulling.
The ancestral health way of life encourages the consumption of potent recovery foods not “allowed” in paleo, such as legumes and dairy (if tolerated), whey protein and dense starchy carbs. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, plantains and even rice are fair game.
Ancestral health isn’t carb-phobic. And we don’t carb-load on kale. It’s all about carb quality, not carb quantity. CrossFitters need higher carbohydrate intakes to keep energy levels high, and they can satisfy these needs by eating whole-food ancestral health sources.
In fact, ancestral health helps you enhance fat loss by eating carbs. The glucose demanded by CrossFit will trigger muscle loss if these demands aren’t met. To fuel these glucose needs, use an ancestral health-aligned program of higher carb, lower fat and plenty of protein on training days, and lower carb, higher fat and plenty of protein on recovery days.
Ancestral health gets you fat adapted. Fat adaptation benefits every type of athlete, and eating primally helps you burn more body fat at any given intensity. For instance, WODs burn through and require a ton of glycogen. Become better fat adapted with primal eating, and you’re able to hold on to muscle glycogen longer and save it for later. Eat primal and you’ll have more fat-burning mitochondria with the metabolic flexibility to burn fat, ketones and carbs.
Ancestral health is a way of life. And it’s entirely aligned with CrossFit. The average CrossFitter could follow any diet they want and just abide by the ancestral health lifestyle laws and still see dramatic gains in performance and recovery. Ancestral health emphasizes sleep, sun exposure, social contact, mental stimulation, circadian health and nature exposure, among other supportive lifestyle habits.
Mark Sisson is the author of the best-selling The Primal Blueprint and co-founder of the Primal Health Coach certification program. You can learn more about him and the Primal Health Coach certification program at primalhealthcoach.com/go/crossfit.