Elite Mountain Biker Greg Parham Reveals Why Paleo Living Is The Key To Winning
From a young age Greg Parham has always been a high achiever. Having finished 3rd in a class of 195 at high school, Greg went onto study architecture at Texas University. By chance one of Greg’s housemates was vice president of a cycling club, and for one race in particular they required some extra heads to make up the numbers. Greg was drafted in and, despite a nasty crash, finished 5th. The rest as they say, is history.
Still with a full time job, Greg started his post collegiate mountain biking career at the sport level and quickly progressed to Pro/Semi-pro/Elite level. Greg climbed the ladder of biking success by supplementing his lack of time for training with a paleo-optimized diet and by maximizing his workouts where possible. Through the influence of his triathlete girlfriend (now wife) Colleen, Greg started swimming and running, and not long after was dominating the Xterra circuit. Greg has since won the premier 12 and 24 Hour events in Texas in 2009 and 2010, and continues to be an avid follower of the paleo living philosophy, sharing his life, achievements, and knowledge at www.paleodietandliving.com
Greg, it’s great to speak with you again. Since the last interview we did together you experienced a pretty bad car accident, how has this affected your training, and how has the paleo diet assisted in your recovery?
The accident dislocated my right shoulder and pretty much put an end to my training for 8 weeks. I was able to start hiking and doing light trail runs after about 5 weeks, but for the most part haven’t been too active. This past weekend I decided to jumpstart racing and entered the last race of the spring season here in Texas. Finished near the end of the field, but it was good to be back.
Throughout my recovery I feel that the Paleo Diet has helped me keep my weight steady. I probably stopped burning on average an extra 500 calories a day. By eating the foods my body was meant to eat, it is able to self regulate and adjust for this. I haven’t gained a single pound. Also, I haven’t lost that much muscle tone either. I have lost lots of strength, but I still look about the same as I did before the accident.
Many tout the healing powers of the Paleo Diet, and I’d have to say it is true. Not only was my body spared significant damage after hitting a car at 30 mph (nothing was broken, other than the dislocation), but I feel like the diet has helped keep me upbeat and supplied critical nutrients needed to heal.
On a more positive note, you have won some big races in the last year, what changes, if any at all, have you made to your diet in order to maintain your continuing success?
I won two 24 hour mountain bike races last fall, about a month apart from each other. I haven’t changed the diet too much truthfully. I just continue to pursue diligence and variety. I like finding new recipes and giving them a try.
How big a part do you think the paleo diet plays in your success, and do you still think you’d be on top without it?
They say that body composition is 80% diet 20% exercise. Having spent 8 weeks away from exercise and still looking and feeling pretty darn good, I’d agree with this. Even after that time off, I was able to jump back in a race cold turkey and still compete at an elite level. I think were I on a more grain based diet, I would still be racing at a high level, I just wouldn’t do as well. Plus I’d have to train more and would likely incur more injury.
A diet heavy in grains, dairy, and sugars results in a state of systemic inflammation. Inflammation not only leads to health problems down the line but increases recovery time and energy since your body has to also focus on bringing the inflammation down. Inflammation is an emergency response developed to isolate pain/injury to the affected region, but when your body is in a constant state of inflammation, it really drags you down and makes it hard to recover if you sustain a real injury, whether at the macro level (like a a sprained ankle) or the micro level (such as torn muscle fibers from a hard workout).
What do you feel is the key differences in athletic performance and recovery for athletes who follow a high-carb diet, rich in grains dairy and sugars vs athletes who follow a paleo diet?
It’s all about fat metabolism. Fat is our preferred source of energy, that is why we store so much. Look at glycogen. Even the most highly trained athletes can only store about 2 ½ hours worth for high intensity exercise. By not giving your body loads of carbs, you teach it to burn fat more efficiently. This isn’t to say you won’t burn carbs during exercise, the fat just acts as a buffer, an advantage if you will. Also, for recovery, the body accumulates acid in the blood from intense activity. Your body has several mechanisms in place to keep the pH around 7.4 . High carb diets rich in grains, dairy, and sugars also cause acidity to rise, making your body work much harder to balance itself. The paleo diet actually promotes an alkaline environment to counteract the acidity built up from exercise. Foods from the paleo diet are not only more nutrient dense, but work in harmony with each other so that you get maximum nutrient absorption, very important for repairing those stressed muscles and soft tissue.
Do you think your competitors are being held back by not following paleo diet?
I know for a fact some of them are, because they tell me. They say they feel like crap because of all the processed foods they eat, but that they can’t seem to kick the high-carb habit and wish they could eat more like me.
Last time we spoke you said you were supplementing your diet by drinking Puresport shakes and eating homemade caveman bars. Has there been any advancement or change in your dietary supplement intake and are supplements necessary for high endurance sport?
I’m actually getting tired of the sports drink and have turned to more fruit and fruit juices/smoothies for long races. For short races, I’m usually fine with just water. I don’t take any additional supplements, except maybe a 5 Hour Energy drink during a 24 hour race since it has a lot of B Vitamins.
For the non-elite athletes, what are your recommendations for exercise in complementing the paleo diet in terms of sustainable weight loss?
Avoid Chronic Cardio. These are activities like running a treadmill or biking moderately hard for over an hour. You want your activity to be in 1 of 2 ranges.
1. Low and long, such as hiking or riding a bike easy. Hiking/walking is truly the best, especially if you can find places to do it barefoot.
2. Very Intense and short. These are activities like sprinting or doing intervals on a spin bike. It can also involve heavy lifting, or doing household chores very zealously, like raking leaves very fast!
These workouts should be around 30 min, 1 hour tops. You really only need to do them once a week, but it won’t hurt if you go up to three times a week.
When you aren’t competing you’re involved in real estate, architecture, and of course blogging on your site www.paleodietandliving.com. Could you say that paleo living has increased your ability to succeed in life?
Overall, I’d say yes. I don’t have to train as much as I used to, I just train better. This frees up time for other things, either work, play, or sleep. I have definitely been sleeping more which leaves me more refreshed to take on the day. Also, I don’t worry as much as I used to or got caught up in insignificant nuisances of modern society. Paleo Living has increased my happiness and therefore my ability to live a more fulfilling life.
I read on your blog that your preference of mattress to sleep on is a sheep-skin rug. Are you finding that the longer you continue on the path of a paleo diet the more aligned you are becoming with your inner wellness in other areas of your life?
Deep stuff! Absolutely, though. I find that the more I continue down the path of living like a Caveman, the I happier I become with the less I have. I’m always trying to get rid of stuff around the house I don’t use anymore. When I feel a little stressed, I walk outside wearing only a pair of shorts and soak up some sun and fresh air for a few minutes. All that stress just disappears. More and more I find myself less concerned with work and more about enjoying life, things like traveling and spending time with loved ones, spending time outside, etc. etc.
Can you give us a typical example of a paleo breakfast for Greg Parham? And does this change leading up to competitions?
3 Eggs – I switch between scrambled, over-easy, and raw
slice or two of bacon
fruit, maybe a banana or apple, or my favorite, cantaloupe
For competition, the only thing that changes is I only do my eggs raw, mostly because I don’t have a means to cook them, but also because they seem to digest quicker this way. If the race is super early, I don’t eat breakfast at all because this diverts energy from my muscles to my digestion system. If you can’t eat breakfast 3 hours prior to a race, just skip it.
“Leaner. Stronger. Faster. I made the switch to the Paleo diet in January 09 and these are but a few of the benefits I’ve experienced. As an elite athlete, I was looking to take my performance to the next level. I didn’t buy all the marketing junk about high carb intake, sports drinks, powerbars, goos, protein drinks, you name it. My body needed real food. Making the switch was easy, but keeping meals interesting was hard. That’s when I discovered the Paleo Cookbooks. Chock full of tasty and easy recipes, the books gave me the variety I needed to keep the diet going strong. Thanks Nikki!”
~ Greg “Caveman” Parham
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