Robb Wolf – Split from CrossFit

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar

–Greg Glassman

I’ve been asked about the CrossFit split from Robb Wolf (Paleo Diet) and how/why CrossFit embraced the Zone Diet. After all they are vastly different approaches to eating. I have opined on the Zone Diet here.

Robb wrote about the split here.

Robb also was in a podcast where he talked about CrossFit:

Here’s another related video where Robb talks about Paleo and training.


Calories In Calories Out – Revisited Again

Here’s some thoughts I have on the Calories In/Calories Out (CICO) model.

The CICO perspective has value but I think where Fung’s contribution worked for me and others was the role of Insulin in weight gain and carbs being the driving force in Insulin Resistance. Combining Low Carb with Intermittent Fasting made for easy compliance. The reduction of Insulin levels over extended periods of time frees the body to release body fat. The release of body fat reduces the need for calories from the diet since part of the fuel that body needs comes from the body rather than meals.

I see Fung’s advice as focused on his patient population which as a kidney doctors is many older diabetic patients. He found that his patients were compliant with Intermittent Fasting and Low Carbohydrate diets. Probably much more so than the standard population because they were seeing a kidney doctor to begin with. Faced with the possibility of failing kidneys or eating OMAD/Low Carb the alternative seems pretty bad.

Also, there are differences in body composition between various diets. Some are more effective than others at shifting the lean mass/fat mass proportions.

I think they do matter but not so much at the start of the diet. Eventually we have to pay attention to them when we stall with lazy keto. But I got from 285 to around 220 with being completely lazy keto. Never would have reached goal weight, though.

Put another way when we have 100 lbs of body fat that’s 3100 calories a day of fat we can easily pull from our fat stores. Easy to do a caloric “deficit” since we have plenty of surplus to draw from in our bodies.

I’ve been looking into the three compartment theory of diabetes and it seems to have legs to me. First our body’s fat cells fill up. Then our liver fills up with fat. Last our pancreas gets choked with fat which keeps us from making enough Insulin. When that happens our fat backs up into our blood in the form of very high triglycerides. When I was Dx with T2D my triglycerides were over 5000. In fact, they couldn’t get an assay on the number since it was too high. Putting someone on Insulin gets them over that by allowing the fat cells to get even fatter. I gained 50 lbs when the doctor put me on Insulin and my diet was not any different.

This has application in this situation since the fat cells stay locked closed due to high Insulin. There are studies which show CICO doesn’t exactly apply in these cases. Diabetics take more Insulin and eat less calories but still gain weight. There’s a strong relationship with Insulin and body fat.

Intermittent fasting and Low Carb break that relationship by lowering basal Insulin levels and allow the liver to begin dumping the fat. That only takes about a week. The pancreas gets less fatty within 2 weeks and the body’s fat cells drop thereafter.

To me the key is the role of Insulin and that’s Fung’s “contribution”. He’s not a researcher but applied what he learned in the clinical setting.

Bottom line is that if someone is Type 2 Diabetic they can get off meds very quickly by following Fung’s approach of Intermittent Fasting and Low Carb. They can learn to count calories/macros later on when they stall if they want to get lower in weight (and some of them may not care about their weight, they just want to be no longer diabetic).

The reason I think CICO matters later on is that our hormones, particularly Insulin, get in order and then the standard model applies.

There are studies which also show CICO is not matched by the data. For example:

The mechanism of the enhanced weight loss in the very low carbohydrate diet group relative to the low fat diet group is not clear. Based on dietary records, the reduction in daily caloric intake was similar in the two groups. For the greater weight loss in the very low carbohydrate group to be strictly a result of decreased caloric consumption, they would have had to consume approximately 300 fewer calories/d over the first 3 months relative to the low fat diet group.

I think Protein is the power multiplier between Low Carb and SAD. In part it has something to do with the Thermic Effect of Food with Protein using about 25% of the calories to process and fat and carbs being much less. So Calories in and Calories out need to take into account the source of the calories.

I’m eating about 2800 calories a day now on Carnivore diet with around 280g of Protein a day. Far in excess of my “Needs”. Some of that we just eliminate as Urea – again outside of the CICO model.

Or maybe the CICO model is just really, really complicated compared to what we see on the standard calculators?

My guess is that the standard calculations for BMR and TDEE are inherently based on the SAD macro ratios. They don’t correct for overconsumption of protein nor do they correct for underconsumption of carbohydrates. They don’t take into account hormonal factors either nor medications such as Insulin.

They are good first order approximations. Eat and track macros and by extension calories. Watch the scale. If you are gaining you need to cut back. If you are maintaining then things are set pretty close. If you want to lose you need to cut.

In my case my methodology is:
Less than 20 g of carbs
At least 1 gram of protein per lb of Lean Body Mass
Enough fat to fill the gap between the first 2 and what I want to lose.

Here’s the calculator I wrote to calculate macros.



Here’s a couple of interesting questions:

  1. What is a refeed?
  2. What are the types of refeeds?
  3. Do I need to refeed?
  4. When do I need to do a refeed?

A refeed is eating more calories. I am going to not talk about the various types of refeeds since some of them involve adding carbohydrates.

The stated purpose of refeeds is to rebalance hormones, ie, “avoid Metabolic Adaptation”. From the page Why Diets Fail – How to use Refeeds & Calorie Cycling to Avoid Metabolic Adaptations!

The Energy Gap: Describing the decrease in your calorie expenditure (how many calories you burn) by going into energy saving mode and the increase in hunger hormones (ghrelin).

Metabolic Adaptations & Adaptive Thermogenesis: The process in which your bodies metabolism, thyroid and key anabolic hormones such as testosterone, IGF-1 and estrogen take a nose dive.

So, what makes a person go into energy saving mode?

Eating at a large caloric deficit can cause a person’s metabolism to drop. My contention is that the only time this is an issue is if you eat at a too much of a deficit where your body fat can’t sustain your loss. This happens in two cases; where the body fat is very low – like a bodybuilder cutting for a physique contest, and where the caloric deficit is larger than the amount of fat your body can mobilize to cover the dietary shortfall.

Both of these involve some pretty simple calculators. First, determine your body fat in lbs. The US Navy Calculator is one way to do this. Then multiply that number by 31 cals/day/lb. This gives you the maximum caloric deficit that your body can provide for from fat stores. Note this is for a sedentary person.

So if you are 200 lbs and the Navy Bodyfat calculator says you have 50 lbs of fat, then you have 50 times 31 = 1550 calories available from your body fat. Note this is a theoretical maximum. The actual may be somewhat less than that amount.

Next calculate your Total Energy Expenditure. For a 200 lb guy that’s probably somewhere around 2600 calories a day. There are plenty of calculators which can show these numbers. In this example, the person expends 2600 calories a day and 1550 can come from body fat so they must eat at least 2600-1550 = 1050 calories a day. Anything less and their metabolism will drop.

It’s a similar situation but much more dire with less body fat. Someone who weights 175 lbs with 10% body fat only has 17.5 lbs of body fat or  542 calories a day available from body fat. They can’t eat at more of a deficit and keep their metabolism firing at that rate.

What should you do to monitor your own metabolism?

Turns out there’s a really easy way to monitor your metabolism. For every 10% drop in metabolism the body temperature drops 1 degree C.


Thoughts on the Zone Diet

The Zone Diet seeks to create a fixed mix of macros by specifying fat, carbs and protein levels. The starting point is:

The numbers are in percentage of calories. On a “standard” 2000 calorie diet that would be:

  • Carbs = 2000 * 0.40 = 800 calories (200 grams)
  • Protein = 2000 * 0.30 = 600 calories (150 grams)
  • Fat = 2000 * 0.30 = 600 calories (67 grams)

Zone vs Standard American Diet (SAD)

According to the CDC (Trends in Intake of Energy and Macronutrients in Adults From 1999-2000 Through 2007-2008):

In 2007-2008 the average energy intake for men was 2,504 kilocalories (kcals) and for women it was 1,771 kcals.

The average carbohydrate intake was 47.9% of total kilocalories (% kcals) for men and 50.5% kcals for women; average protein intake was 15.9% kcals for men and 15.5% kcals for women; average total fat intake was 33.6% kcals for men and 33.5% kcals for women; and average saturated fat intake was 11.0% kcals for men and 11.1% kcals for women.

That means the Zone Diet is lower in carbohydrates, much higher in protein, and a lower fat than the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Macro SAD (Men) SAD (Women) ZONE Difference
Carb 47.9 50.5 40 Zone Lower
Protein 15.9 15.5 30 Zone Much Higher
Fat 33.6 33.5 30 Zone Lower

The main lever of the Zone then appears to be Protein. Doubling someone’s Protein should do some very good things for their health. Added to that is the advantage of the lower number of total calories on the zone.

But would the Zone be a good thing for a Type 2 Diabetic? Certainly it would help some who are diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Anything they do to reduce their carbohydrate consumption will help their pre-diabetes.

Zone vs Ketogenic Diet

The Ketogenic diet has various protein goals depending on you who follow. For a 200 lb male typical numbers would be (using a higher level of protein in this example):

Macro grams kCal/macro Calories % Cals
Carb 20 4 80 4%
Protein 160 4 640 32%
Fat 142 9 1280 64%

Where the two diets differ are their fat and carbohydrate macros.

Macro ZONE Ketogenic
Carb 40% 4%
Protein 30% 32%
Fat 30% 64%

Carbohydrate Effects on a Type 2 Diabetic

Carbohydrates raise blood sugar and therefore Insulin levels much more dramatically in a Diabetic than in a non-Diabetic person. That’s what makes a person an Diabetic. Before I went on the Ketogenic diet I was averaging only 200 grams of carbohydrates per day. I know this since my Insulin pump required me to enter any carbohydrates I ate. And, in spite of being on an average of 100 units of Insulin a day, my blood sugars were all over the place.

My highs were over 200 and my lows never got to 100. Around the start of August I went on the Ketogenic diet. For me, that was going from 100 grams (on the average) of carbohydrates a day to less than 20 grams. I was also not tracking the other macros (fat, protein). Here are my blood sugar numbers from the first three months of the Ketogenic diet.

That chart is the very definition of stable blood sugars. It took being at 20 grams or less of carbs a day to get stable. And before the Ketogenic diet I was nowhere near the Zone Diet carbohydrate levels. I can only imagine how messed up my blood sugar numbers would have been if I had been on the “balanced” zone diet.


CrossFit and Nutrition

CrossFit really gets nutrition.  A few caveats about this video:

  • Not sure I completely agree with their body fat percentage goals for older people – or at least making it the priority.
  • Also their initial macro mix has a much higher carb amount (1/3 of calories from carbs) than what Type 2 Diabetics should eat.

Video Points

  1. Eat real food.
  2. Not too much of it.
  3. Mostly plant based.
  • Living = grew out of the ground or had eyes.
  • Stay out of the middle aisles of the supermarket.
  • No man-made food like substances.
  • Don’t use your macros as a way of avoiding eating right.
    • Macros are your mix of Protein/Carbs/Fats within overall calorie limit.

Metabolism and Aging

Intuitively, we all know that our metabolism slows as we age. Did you though this has been quantified? Here’s the chart of Basal Metabolic Rates in men and women vs age:

So this, at least in part, demonstrates why it is harder at 50 to lose weight than when we are 20. For a man of 20 their BMR is about 46 and the same man (at the same size) their BMR is around 38. That’s only 82% of the age at 20. So, yes, it is harder to lose weight since you have to eat less to lose weight than you did when you were young, but it is not at all impossible.

Even if you are older, you can do it.


mPSMF – Weight Loss Progress

My modified Protein Sparing Modified Fast is moving along very well. Here’s my weight loss chart (from Cron-o-meter):

I had a nice drop over the past couple of days. Note that I started teh food diary in Cron-o-meter on Oct 24th. That may contribute to the losses due to the increased attention to intake. Before that I was using my own spreadsheet to track diet.  Cron-o-meter may be making me more accurate with measuring food intakes.

Goals Changes?

My newly adjusted weight goal is 170 lbs. That’s 144.4 lbs of Lean Body Mass and 15% body fat. That’s in the middle of the athlete range of body fat and on the low end for an older man like myself.

[Later – Updated goal to 20.9% based on Ideal Body Fat percentage]

Modified Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF)

I am calling what I am doing a Modified Protein Sparing Modified fast (PSMF) since the classical PSMF does not factor in fat oxidation rates.

I think it’s useful to factor in fat oxidation rates since that’s the maximum amount of fat a person can pull from their body per day. See my post, “Hypophagia – How much fat can I lose in a day?” for details.

Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Book

Lyle McDonald’s book “Rapid Fat Loss” (RFL) simply puts people on a particular amount of protein depending upon what stage of the diet a person is on. As the diet goes on and a person loses body fat their protein amount increases on Lyle’s method. So basically, his method is Very Low Carbs (except certain unlimited green veggies).

I think the fault in Lyle’s method isn’t so much that it leads to excessive protein consumption. Some would say that there’s no such thing as too much protein and within limits they could be right.

I think the fault in Lyle’s method is not factoring in the limits of hypophagia. Drop your calorie intake too low (below what the body can provide) and something has to give. If you can’t lose more than a particular amount of fat per day then why would you eat at a lower calorie amount than that?


PSMF – A Day’s Food/Supplements/Exercise/Biometrics

I’ve completed a day of logging everything with CRON-o-meter. Here’s the data entry part:

Bio-metrics were Weight, Body Fat percentage (from the scale), Body Temperature (used to determine if metabolism has dropped) and Blood Glucose.

Exercise was logged (CrossFit with warm-up and the resistance training portions).

Finally, the food I ate was carefully and completely logged. So how did I do compared to my goals? For overall calories I overshot by 2%. That’s great since I should never go under with PSMF.

The overall breakdown was also pretty good. I went under on my fat and over on my protein which balanced each other out. I did not exceed the carbohydrate number (net grams less than 20). That put me at a net deficit of 1131 calories. That would be about 2 lbs per week of loss.


Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF) – Two Weeks In

I am two weeks into this Protein Sparing Modified Fast. How do the results stack up so far? My current Scale (vs Original scale) numbers are:

  • Weight: 198.6 (203.3) 4.7 lbs down, Predicted Weight: 197.5 lbs.
  • Body Fat: 31.2 (32)%. down 1.6% of body weight (-3.2 lbs), Predicted Body fat loss: -5.02 lbs.
  • Muscle:  28.2 (27.6)%, down -0.2 lbs.

That’s pretty good. 6.3% of loss was muscle loss, 93.7% of loss was fat loss. So this WOE is definitely protein sparing. Just not hitting the amount of body fat loss that the table predicts. Will need to scale the time to achieve my goals. Interestingly enough the protein loss was very similar to the number reported by Yang on a water-only fast. Still it’s hard to draw a definitive conclusion from a bathroom scale.

Water retention has been relatively good with my %H2O going up from 36.9% to 37.7% (which correlates to an actual weight drop of 0.26 lbs). This isn’t a diet which dumps a lot of water plus I had just been on a loss before starting this WOE. Also, I’ve been able to keep up with needed electrolytes. I may even be overdoing them. In PSMF it seems easier to take care of electrolytes than a water-only fast. The Whey Protein Powder has a lot of the electrolytes in them plus vitamins. Protein itself may help and the fiber in green vegetables probably contributes. I’ve been eating Chia Seeds to keep up the fiber as well.

Dietary compliance has been pretty good/easy. I have been consistently hitting or slightly exceeding my daily macros within a few percentage points. It’s a bit of a juggling act and some pain to do daily tracking of the macros, but my spreadsheet makes it easier.

Exercise (CrossFit) has been varied but well tolerated. I am mostly in the phase of neurological adaptations now and on occasion I do something right enough to not be told to change it. Not putting on muscle mass isn’t all that big of a deal in this phase of my adaptation. I don’t see myself becoming a body builder and I don’t want too much muscle mass anyway. But I can imagine that doing body weight things like chinups and pushups will be a heck of a lot easier with 28 less lbs of fat. Running is already getting easier.

Sticking with my initial goal of 15% body fat. Scale says 31.2% which is significantly different than the USN calculator value of 24.1%. This article suggests that bathroom scales include the water that is in fat cells in their water results. That may give a clue as to why the fat number and water numbers are not quite what is expected. Particularly if some fat is being replaced by water (See the Whooosh Effect).

Update (2017-09-28): Link to Lyle McDonald’s article on the whooosh.