Super confused about Starch and Fat on Paleo... Help!

by 30 · March 16, 2014 at 07:19 PM

So, maybe I really am just that uninformed, but what EXACTLY is wrong with having 2-3 yams/sweet potatoes or even squash a day? I CrossFit about 4-5 times a week and it seems having these foods are the horrible things to have. What if I am not doing CrossFit on a day, should I condemn eating a yam?

Also, on a different matter, what is wrong with Almond Butter, I usually do like 2-3 tablespoons with an apple either as a snack/meal/pre-WOD snack. How much fat is too much that it's bad?

I know one size doesn't fit all, but I've been doing CrossFit for just over 2 years now and I haven't really been making huge gains because I don't get enough calories in or the right amount of food. I fear a combo of fats and starches will make me fat. All the research leads me to believe I should be paranoid and steer clear.

Help me please!

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11 Replies

Medium avatar
39204 · March 11, 2013 at 07:16 PM

Nobody doing crossfit should restrict starch. Muscle glycogen repletion is a good thing.

Nobody should restrict omega-6 from nutritious whole food sources. Eat as many almonds as you want within your caloric framework. I eat raw walnuts <gasp> every day and my skin has improved greatly as a result.

These are both misplaced paleo fears that need to go away.

2930 · March 11, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Paleo is not low carb by necessity or by design. Lot (too many) people use paleo as part of an often ill-advised low carb diet, so that's why you see so many websites talk about it.

For someone as active as you, moderate starches are just fine, and even desirable on workout days.

And if you've done crossfit for two years with no progress, maybe it is time to move to a sensible workout program instead. Google Starting Strength.

8497 · March 11, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Carbohydrates are actually rarely converted to fat and stored (de novo lipogenesis) under normal conditions. Abnormal conditions would drive DNL such as consuming 700+ grams of carbohydrate (like over 30 medium sweet potatoes!) In these circumstances your glycogen stores are maxed out and you are severely eating an excess of calories.

When you consume more carbohydrate you burn more carbohydrate and less fat. Eat less carbohydrate and you burn less carbohydrate and more fat. Carbohydrate does not make you fat by being directly converted and stored as fat, but excess carbohydrate will make you fat by stopping fat oxidisation.

Interestingly another thing that can drive DNL is when fat consumption is less than 10% of total calories. So DNL is the exception in normal dietary conditions, but can happen with chronic carbohydrate consumption and chronic under-consumption of fat.

So to make it easier to understand, simply speaking the amount of starchy carbohydrate you are eating is not going to be stored as fat (unless you are consuming more calories overall then you are expending either via fat/carbohydrate/protein). But during the consumption of these starchy carbohydrates you will halt fat oxidation (burning) due to the rise in blood-glucose (sugar) and insulin. This will taper off in probably around 2 hours.

You can of course taper the amount of carbohydrate you consume to increase your body's propensity to burn fat over carbohydrate (becoming more 'fat adapted'), but over a certain exercise intensity threshold you cannot use fat for fuel no matter how 'fat adapted' you are. Fat cannot supply enough energy (ATP) quick enough and so your high intensity CrossFit workouts will be at times decreasing (or stopping) your fat utilisation and ramping up carbohydrate utilisation. Which presents the argument that you should utilise some less intensive workout days during the week.

This intensity cycling also appears to work very well when you cycle carbohydrate consumption. That being consuming carbohydrate on (or for) the days you are at high intensity (refilling glycogen stores), and eating lower amounts of carbohydrate on you rest/recovery days. This also allows you to potentially have lower glycogen stores for your following workout day allowing you to deplete them which has been shown to be beneficial (cycling depletion/refilling, rather than remaining full the whole time).

1637 · March 11, 2013 at 06:45 PM

Unless you have some sort of disease, metabolic disorder or are extremely sedentary, carbs are not bad. You need them to support activity. Adding more and more carbs would probably allow you to progress at Crossfit. Carbs are good.

As for almond butter.. I think nuts are a slippery slope. Yah, they're all natural and whatever, but no matter which way you slice it they're chock full of PUFA. Personally, I would choose gluten over PUFA in times of desperation... so I try to limit my PUFA as much as possible. And because they are naturally present in a lot of things and you're bound to eat out now and again (and be exposed to PUFA) you might want to keep your levels as though as possible by removing unnecessary foods like almond butter.

.. But really, a few tablespoons here and there isn't going to kill you.

15261 · March 11, 2013 at 03:36 PM

For me and a lot of other people, eating a lot of carbs means gaining weight while being hungry all the time. This is not true of everyone though. Going low carb can be a good way to lose weight and fat. But if that isn't your goal then maybe this doesn't apply to you.

I went Paleo about a year ago and has been doing crossfit for about 10 months. Initially I went very low carb and it was great, I had a ton of energy and made great progress with body composition, strength and endurance.

However now I have plateaued somewhat at crossfit -- not really a huge deal for me, since I am just trying to get and stay in shape rather than radically increase how much I can lift or anything. I have lost about 6-7 inches off of my waist and some body fat.

What's interesting is that I crave carbs all the time now. I didn't crave them when I first went low carb, and feel that my body was adjusting somehow. I could go an entire day eating just 10-20g of carbs with no problem. But now I need carbs at least 1 meal a day, if not 2 or 3.

I have a strong aversion to carbs because they were the enemy of my health for so long, so I am being cautious about how muh I eat now. But after a few weeks of eating more carbs than I have I years, I am still lean and still enjoying my workouts. I could be that I've enabled my body to effectively burn carbs, as long as I'm working out.

This is all to say, everyone's experience on Paleo is different, and low carb is a general guideline, but if you look and feel good with more carbs, give them a try, just make sure they are "safe" carbs (no grains etc).

24412 · March 11, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Look into the Perfect Health Diet, it is very close to what you describe here, and I don't think you should be worried about some starchy root vegetables considering how active you are.

Almond butter, probably shouldn't live on the stuff, but in snack sized amounts I wouldn't sweat it.

19504 · March 11, 2013 at 08:48 AM

It might be helpful to read Good Calories, Bad Calories. Some almonds are OK but they are high in Omega 6 which is a good thing to not overdue.

1142 · March 16, 2014 at 07:19 PM

Sweet potato is a good food. Eat it if you want.

I need to lose some weight and would need to eat high fat, and go into ketosis to do that but when I'm not trying like now I would happily eat sweet potatoes with lots of butter. They make you feel good and are good for you and perfectly paleo, natural although I suppose in the time before mankind cooked we would not have been eating them whereas we might well have been eating raw meat.

Medium avatar
10067 · March 16, 2014 at 06:34 PM

Nothing. Cordain's Paleo macros are in the range of 30% protein, 40% carbs, 40% fat. It's hard to get to 40% carbs on leafy greens alone. Eat the yams.

This is not a ketosis diet. If you want to lose weight on this diet you can't eat it ad libitum, and it helps to be active to burn up the quickly digested carbs.

0 · March 16, 2014 at 06:15 PM

Robb Wolf recommends to keep carbs and fat to a minimum IF you are trying to lose weight. Otherwise you need your carbs to increase your performance.Check out, "The Paleo Diet for Athletes" by Loren Cordain. Carbs are not bad unless you want to lose weight. Again you need them to increase performance but can you can use healthy fat as fuel also. Become fat adapted to you your body fat too.

Here is a link that may help out.


5584 · March 11, 2013 at 10:25 PM

i've noticed carbs make me gain more weight than protein or fat.

i've never read ANYTHING in the paleo community that says yams and almond butter is bad. i feel that a lot of people eat them. most just limit them and don't go crazy.

personally, i don't eat starches because i am healing my gut, but i don't think they are bad for you if you can digestive them without pain. i enjoy almonds and don't limit myself to them. it's all about balance.

have you typed your meals into fitday or myfitnesspal to see how many carbs/proteins/fats you are eating? that may help you to see if you are eating too many.

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