Paleo control days are the eating style one should adopt on days where there is no heavy weightlifting. They are designed to help reduce inflammation that occurs from exercise and post-workout feasts, help with gut health that may be harmed from these feasts, and as a good way to get your vegetables and fiber in (anyone who has done Cheat Mode knows intimately that having one meal before a workout and needing to get an obscene amount of calories in after their workout is hard to do with more than the recommended 8+ servings of veggies, due to their effects on satiety).
Why Robb Wolf’s Paleo diet has been chosen is twofold. The first reason is that it is probably the best diet plan out there if one wanted to blindly follow another person’s words (in regards to body composition and overall health), the second is that it is not a pre-set meal plan; as long as you follow the food group recommendations you can make whatever meals you want.
This article is just an outline of how Paleo control days should be structured, the potential drawbacks of exercise days, and how Paleo control days alleviate or outright negate these drawbacks.
Structure of a Paleo control day
A paleo control day is a day where one does not exercise with heavy resistance training (some aerobic exercise is fine). It’s a time to relax and enjoy some healthy and delicious food.
A Tl;Dr (Too Long; Didn’t Read) of the Paleo diet is to ‘Eat like our ancestors’. In case any of you aren’t 20,000 years old and saw this firsthand, just be aware that the Paleo diet eliminates the food groups of dairy and grains while emphasizing veggie and meat intake. There’s more to the paleo diet than this, but this is the main concern as it applies to Cheat Mode.
Our goals on these days as it pertains to Cheat Mode are to limit insulin secretion, overemphasize vegetable consumption, and relax.
Timing is much more lenient. One may choose to intermittent fast Leangains style (16/8 fasted/fed cycle) as is typical of a resistance training day, or one may choose to eat normally throughout the day; the difference in the long run will be negligible, so choose the eating method you prefer. Having a few smaller meals (more than 4) is recommended though.
Goals of a Paleo Control Day
- Limiting Insulin secretion
Limiting insulin secretion is the main goal, but not much thought should be given to it. A Paleo eating style omits dairy and grain food categories which are the main food groups responsible for insulin production in vivo.
By avoiding these food groups, we avoid insulin as much as we should be concerned with.
- Overemphasis on vegetable consumption
This is solely because vegetables are awesome (bags of nutrients and fiber; may not be critical to survival given other food sources, but they are beneficial), and that most people will not be hitting their vegetable and fiber quota on exercise days due to the timing of Cheat Mode.
It gives a chance for the fiber to help your intestinal health, and for your body to store some nutrients you may not be absorbing fully on other days due to the intestinal clusterfuck that is the post-workout feast.
Just relax. Take an epsom salt bubble bath, read a book, listen to some music; do something that alleviates stress. If you did the workout days properly and intensely, this will be a welcome change to rest your muscles and joints.
Potential Drawbacks of a Cheat Mode exercise day
Potential drawbacks of a Cheat Mode exercise day typically fall into the categories of inflammation, excess acute insulin secretion, and digestive problems. All of these typically arise from the foods one consumes during the post-workout binge.
The vast majority of readers are not able to eat up to their BMR with a small pre-workout meal and the post-workout binge given normally ‘healthy’ foods, it’s just too much. To help cram all this food in, vegetables are usually omitted and some calorie-dense or subpar food choices are made.
This is expected of Cheat Mode, I even encourage it since you just need the calories and protein after a workout more than the pretty micronutrient counts. Regardless, there are drawbacks.
In regards to the balance of n-3/n-6 fatty acids (Note: N is shorthand for ‘omega’ in some circles) and food choices that typically contain these fatty acids, the post-workout binge is usually very high in n-6 fatty acids which are conducive to inflammation (Nut butters, non-fishy meats, dairy, trace fatty acids in grains, vegetable oils used to process junk food, etc.)
This is good for our muscle building purposes, as the inflammation repair pathways in muscles are closely tied in with muscle regeneration pathways. You need some inflammation to build muscle, and there is some evidence that NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, such as Aspirin) may impair muscle regeration if taken immediately after a workout, which lends credence to the theory that post-workout inflammation is good.
Regardless, inflammation is not good for health. I never said this post-workout binge was healthy as it is not designed for that. Throwing in a bunch of veggies and fish oils at this time would make it healthier, but it would limit calories ingested and the potential muscle building effects (theoretically, as there are difference between fish oils and typical NSAIDs such as Aspirin).
- Excess acute insulin secretion
Insulin is a highly anabolic hormone, and around a workout it is advisable for muscular gains to flood your body with insulin from foods. Technically pre-workout is better as it can get to your muscles and not be impaired by the impairing actions of adrenaline (secreted from your body through high intensity training), but good luck in binging before a workout and having the nutrients get to your muscle or not vomiting it all up. (Pre-workout solid foods are not recommended due to digestive issues).
To top it all off, your body may secrete even more insulin as epinephrine (adrenaline, same difference) impairs the actions of insulin to a degree, leading to elevated blood glucose levels and impaired glucose tolerance acutely. [x]
The insulin will still do it’s job, but more will be secreted. This may be beneficial for some of the signaling effects of insulin on genetics, but it’s essentially a wash in regards to glucose transport (less potent yet more of it) and will cause more of the ‘bad’ along with the good. It’s not the best thing to do for long term health.
- Digestive distress
A well-done Cheat Mode exercise day will include consuming anywhere from 60% to 80% of the days calories in a single meal; despite the need for calories at this time, it is highly unlikely that one will absorb it all.
Another reason for digestive problems is that after a workout, people may go for cheaper or more calorically dense foods such as grain products (such as half a loaf of white bread for some heavy lifters) or peanut butter. These foods do contain lectinous compounds such as gliadin or peanut agglutinin, and may cause digestive problems. (Especially when in excess). A review of gliadin can be found here, it is one of those rare food ‘toxic’ compounds where it actually warrants concern.
I also mentioned in my fibre article ‘chyme’, or the mass of foodstuff in your gut. Only the surface area can be absorbed at any given time, and the more food ingested at a single sitting means a larger chyme but less percentage of it on the surface. The more you eat, the less overall percent of the food that is absorbed. It is pretty much impossible to know with large meals how many of micronutrients that you consumed are actually getting taken up into your body, and how much is getting pooped out.
Some micronutrients also compete with each other. Vitamin A and Vitamin D don’t seem to like being absorbed together, and there is a class of minerals called the ‘Divalent Minerals’ (Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc) which all affect each others absorption by sharing the same transporter (DMT1). Given how Calcium and Magnesium are usually the most numerous in foods, and Iron and Zinc are needed minimally, there is a chance the latter two minerals may be absorbed in smaller amounts due to competition from the more prominent minerals. Zinc and Copper also have interactions and some less-known minerals such as Manganese also seem to also be affected by the divalent minerals. It’s essentially a micronutrient clusterfuck in the gut at this time and impossible to know exactly what is being taken up and what isn’t.
Any distress in the gut can also speed up absorption (such as lectins causing bloat), and carbonation and caffeine may both speed up intestinal motility. The less time this food is in your gut, the less overall amounts of nutrients absorbed.
Soluble fiber supplementation or eating foods high in soluble fiber during this time is recommended for absorption rates.
How Paleo control days alleviate these problems
- Inflammation / Insulin secretion
These two were grouped together as they are very similar. Both inflammation and insulin secretion are ‘alleviated’ during control days as they are not highly stimulated.
The food choices typical of a Paleo-style diet are not highly insulinogenic (insulin producing). Thus not much insulin is secreted on these days. This will help to resensitize many of the processes that were temporarily desensitized via the feast. (The fast does this to a degree, but any stimulant usage may negate resensitization; theoretical but not proven)
By reducing insulin, we also reduce acutely the amount of inflammatory reactions that occur [x]
We are far away from the workout window at this time that keeping inflammation highly active is not overly significant for muscular growth, so we aim to reduce it for health reasons.
Your joints will also thank you for this.
- Digestive distress
More frequent meals during Paleo control days alleviates much of the digestive problems associated Cheat Mode and gives the body a surplus of micronutrients to work with by more micronutrients ingested, and greater absorption rates thereof.
The body can store nutrients, even water soluble ones (Ever forgotten to eat one day and got scurvy? Didn’t think so). Eating a surplus of micronutrients this day from food sources can create a safety net on exercise days in regards to the possibility of not absorbing micronutrients on days you lift.
Paleo-style eating is also designed to minimize gliadin ingestion, as well as ingestion of other lectins which bind to NAG and damage the intestinal walls. This will give the gut lining some time to repair itself.
Protein is emphasized to provide a surplus of L-Glutamine, which is the main energy substrate for the rapidly dividing intestinal cells and can lead to their repair. Supplementation of excess glutamine would help, but it is not needed at all. Whey protein is already very high in glutamine and recommended on control days for other reasons (to be discussed). [x] [x]
A greater intake of vegetables also denotes a greater intake of soluble fiber, which enhances the overall percentage of nutrients absorbed via reduced intestinal motility (the speed of which the chyme travels through the gut).
Overall, this style of eating is just conducive to health and repairing any possible damage to the body that Cheat Mode exercise days induced.
Other considerations to give
There are a few considerations to give in regards to these control days for absolute health.
A part of me likes Paleo and their recommendations, but a part of me cringes when entire food groups are eliminated. No diet is perfect, so hopefully we can alleviate some of Paleo’s drawbacks with some smart supplementation and food choices.
Paleo recommends vitamin D supplementation for bone health, but eliminates the best sources of calcium with dairy. The nature of the Paleo diet is conducive to bone metabolism (high vitamin D and alkalinity intake, moderate calcium) and thus can get away with reduced calcium intake. Cheat Mode, however, assumes that heavy weightlifting is occurring and many people aim to build muscle. Due to calcium’s role in muscle contraction, one may need to consume more.
I am hesitant to recommend calcium tablets since excess calcium can potentially exacerbate disease states, it’s one of the few micronutrients where simple supplementation could push some individuals into a danger zone; for this reason I don’t recommend it to everybody but concede that some people would benefit from it. [x]
Simple fix, protein powders (Whey or Casein). Both whey and casein are derived from milk; a single serving of each typically contains 20-25% of the RDA for calcium. (This is usually around 200-250mg per scoop). The dose is high enough to help, but not high enough to harm. It’s cheap and delicious as well if you buy smart.
Many people use stimulants during the fast to accelerate fat lipolysis (a sexy word for ‘burning’ or ‘metabolizing).
It may be advisable to limit stimulant usage on Paleo control days to prevent desensitization to said stimulants. Some green tea is fine due to the low caffeine load, but consider putting the thermogetic pills or energy drinks off for a day.
Over time, limiting stimulant usage on control days may aid in the efficacy of them when used on regular days during the fast, and prevent one from constantly upping the dosage until they are pulsing 800mg of caffeine alongside some Ephedrine and Yohimbine HCl and don’t feel any stimulation from any of it.
This is not needed, but recommended.
Paleo control days are days where one does not lift weights and eats according to a Paleo-style food plan. They are designed for health and will be the key factor in having Cheat Mode actually be a healthy lifestyle plan, and will help prevent any possible harm induced on the body on other days.