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20 ways to train your primal instincts

Henri Rousseau "The Dream"

1. Read a book this summer about evolution.

Carl Zimmer´s “Evolution: The triumph of an idea” is a great starting point. Inspiring and fascinating. You will be a changed person with some evolutionary theory in you. Not just for the geeks, a must for the human species. It´s nice to have the science behind why we must fight, sleep, eat meat and have sex.

2. Sleep outside one night.

Use a net if you must. Drift off to the nocturnal sounds and rise naturally to the dawn. Leave your phone at home too. Get someone to join you if you´re afraid of bats.

3. Cook a bird, fish or animal whole on a fire you made.

Take the guts out, see how it all looks, season, cook and eat everything.

4. Go for a run in the woods without your shoes.

That´s right, barefoot. Feel the earth, stones, sticks whilst walking on the balls of your feet. Jump, hop, skip, crawl and roll. A great read too for the summer, is “Born to run” by Christopher McDougall. He tells the story about the legandary Tarahumara Indian barefoot runners of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Gripping and interesting. Get a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers to ease your way into naked feet. We were not born with shoes, Nike knew this, but brainwashed us into believing the modern running shoe was doing us good…plahhhh. Check out barefootshoes.no for advice on barefoot movement.

5. Eat no sugar, no grains, nothing from a box or packet for 30 days.

Be strict, don´t cheat. I personally guarantee you´ll look, feel and perform better than ever before.

6. Have a day of critical examination.

If you read newspapers, watch tv or speak to a friend, decide that everything you read, see or hear for a day, may be wrong, misleading or simply an opinion. Make your own mind up, by examining options. Tell people about your critical day.

7. Spend an afternoon at a playground.

Think for a while of your childhood and the things you did on the bars, ropes, swings and logs. Practice those moves, barefoot.

8. Go to the forest and pick berries. Eat loads too.

9. Climb a tree. Spend an hour or more up there.

10. Have a clear out at home.

Think hard about all the stuff around you and how much it contributes to your happiness. Throw stuff or give it away. Have another rethink the following day, and repeat the process. Less in life, may just be more.

11. On a hot day, lie in some longish grass, naked.

Imagine you were living 20000 years ago, and all you thought about was food and sex. Empty your mind of all superficial clutter.

12. Find an old person to talk to.

Ask him/her to talk to you about their childhood and what they remember about family responsibility, play and work. Decide on living for a day or a week like they did, and let them know how you get on. Ask for advice.

13. Go for a bike ride into the countryside.

Stop when you find some farm animals. Talk to them, out loud if you want, explaining how you appreciate their part in evolution, and the respect you have for them every time you get to eat meat.

14. Watch some Chinese martial arts or Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Notice how they move their bodies and how sharp, strong and smooth they are. Practice some of the moves you saw over and over again.

15. Spend an hour each day meditating.

It doesn´t matter how you do it, just read up or ask someone some basic techniques, find solitude and try to empty all negative emotion. Think of breathing from the stomach upwards. Feel light. Think strength.

16. Spend a full 24hrs alone.

Surprisingly few people do this. We have become addicted to our mobile phones and Internet. We are available and use others as constant reference to our state of being. Bring a notebook; camp out, reflect yourself upon your thoughts in solitude. Like we used to do.

17. Have a week off training.

If you train 4 or more times per week, sleep is erratic, stomach bothers you, feel stiff and get headaches, have a week where you focus on walking, stretching like animals do, sleeping more, drinking lots of water, eating meat and fish plus vegetables. It´ll do you good.

18. Have a day eating coconut.

If you can get hold of fresh ones, great. If not, buy some canned coconut milk and some shredded coconut. Make a curry sauce with coconut. Just add some masala spice to some tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and coconut cream and simmer. Blend up and add to your favourite meat. Add some dark chocolate and butter to a pan, melt, add the grated coconut, some walnuts and dried berries. Stir well, add to ice cube trays and freeze. Enjoy with tea after your coconut curry. Coconut is amazing.

19. Make a commitment.

This is open, but make a deal with yourself to fulfil something you had planned to do but somehow found an “excuse” not to finish it. Stop doing something you told yourself you would stop doing, but made an “excuse” to keep doing it. Tell someone close that you have made a commitment, and ask for him or her to support you in your choice. Don´t make excuses. If you think you can or cannot do something, you are right both times.

20. “Be as you wish to seem”

Read some Socrates, or any philosophy. Try to apply some to your life. Learn about thought.

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Supplements for training and nutrition: No shortcuts

I´m often asked questions about nutritional supplementation in regards to both general health and performance matters, and have experimented over the years with varying degrees of success. Here I will share some of my experiences and try to simplify what is often made out to be a complex field. As I often allude to, much of the complexity surrounding training and nutrition advice is intended as a smokescreen by individual companies to make money selling needless products.

Before I start, there isn’t much need to consider supplements for training and performance purposes if you haven’t got your house in order with regards to a proper diet, adequate sleep, and sensible exercise. There are NO shortcuts to good health and fitness through over the counter supplements. It is that simple. Eat crap, live a stressed out and sleep deprived life, and struggle down to the gym for an aerobic session or run 3 times a week will not allow ANY fancy supplement to improve your life other than burning a bigger hole in your wallet.

Ok, got that out of the way. I will not go into detail about the need to eat natural, whole, fresh, nutrient dense foods here. I will not go into detail about how important getting 8-9hrs of GOOD sleep every night is. Read this if you wonder why. I will not mention the dangers of eating processed, man-made “foodstuffs”, concentrated sources of fructose, gluten containing grains and refined vegetable oils. Kurt Harris will tell you so in both a legit and serious way. And I will not go into the importance of eating animals as your most important source of nutrient rich protein and fat. Read this if you want to geek out a bit.

So, assuming you have your ship steered in the right direction, give or take the usual bumps and grinds that come with living a modern life of course, then what about some optional extras that can lift your performance a notch or two, and help in your path to achieving certain goals?. Here are a few supplements I have kept using over the years, remembering that personal experimentation is just that: a personal endeavour. What makes one gal laugh might make the other cry. One shoe doesn’t fit all.

  1. Sunshine

Winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is common here in the dark north of Scandinavia. Physiologically, it has been proposed that lack of light during the winter causes, among other things, a drop in serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter involved in various processes of “well being”. Sunlight triggers the brain to produce the hormone melatonin, which again, helps our cyclical rhythms stay in order and has been found to strengthen our immune system. All good things for our body and mind.  Sufficient Vitamin D synthesis can occur with only a few minutes of exposure to light a few times per week. That cannot be hard for most non-closet dwellers. Wait before applying sunscreen, just don’t get burnt. Again, far too much false press about the need to cover up from the “harmful rays of the sun”.

2. Garlic

Ah, great stuff. Forget the capsules that promise to be odourless and triple strength.  Fresh garlic is a cheap and versatile wonder drug. New research has shown that it boosts natural supplies of hydrogen sulfide, which is an antioxidant that helps fend off cancers, and protects the heart. The Greek´s used it before competition centuries ago, and it is the key element in most of my dinners. In the Solomon Islands, garlic is used to fend off malaria, help heal cuts and abrasions, and prevent acne. Just don’t use it in drinks. Not nice.

3. Fish Oil

Amazingly, the introduction of processed foods and vegetable oils into modern diets has contributed to ruining our optimal omega 3/ omega 6 ratios. Prior to the agricultural revolution, our ratios were roughly 1:1, but now we see ratios in the average modern Western population of up to 1:10-15. The side effects of this imbalance have been linked to body inflammation, autoimmune disease, and higher incidences of cancer and heart conditions to name but a few. Naturally occurring omega 3 is found in wild fish and meats, whereas processed fats (remember, these are the ones we are told by “authorities” to consume, not animal fats) are high in omega 6 fats, which leads to all sorts of health problems. Try to eat grass fed meat, wild fish, some walnuts and quality extra virgin olive oil. Learn more about the importance of long-chain n-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) here.  How much fish oil to supplement is dependent on a number of factors, but generally a higher dosage is required for people out of shape, coming off a poor diet or with inflammation and autoimmune disorders. Check out Robb Wolf´s fish oil calculator here to find out more. Look carefully at the EPA/DHA ratios when buying oil. I usually get mine from Holland & Barrett in the UK, although I recently found a good one here in Norway.

4. Zinc

I take zinc supplements during periods of higher than normal training exertion, due to its beneficial effect on growth and recovery, immune boosting capabilities and its good for skin condition. Supplies can become depleted from prolonged and intense training and inadequate meat intake/high carbohydrate intake. Also I find it beneficial for sleeping, in which case I take a great product called ZMA, usually before bedtime.  Coach Poliquin also notes the lower levels of testosterone and sperm count caused by zinc deficiency, which as we should all know, is not good news. Zinc is found in oysters, beef, lamb, dark chocolate, liver and some dairy products.

5. Magnesium

Studies have proven that magnesium deficiency can be related to insulin insensitivity and disrupted sleep. Both bad news for anyone, especially if you are training hard as well. A common supplement in the bodybuilding world due to its essential role in many metabolic processes including protein synthesis. You´ll find lots of magnesium in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli and white fish as well. Eat heaps of these foods, and be strong like Popeye. ZMA also comes in different qualities, usually the more expensive the brand the better, I get mine here.

6. Spirulina

Thanks to my mum. Spirulina is one of nature’s true super foods and is a great supplement to many dishes, as well as in shakes. It is super green, smells and tastes strange, probably because it is an algae but it contains all the essential amino acids as well as high concentrations of other nutrients and enzymes that are beneficial to the stomach, and general vibrancy of skin and hair. Super expensive in tablet form, cheaper in powdered form, but great in post workout shake with eggs and banana. I get mine from New Zealand in bulk from Healthpost.

7. Caffeine

Ahhh, the morning double espresso macchiato with heavy cream (50/50) freshly brewed by the La Pavoni. Sometimes I go to bed thinking of how nice it will be in the morning. Conflicting studies are everywhere as to the pros and cons of caffeine and the effect on training and general health. Some swear by it, others warn of danger!.  There is no doubt it has ergogenic effects, and there is something to the fact that even elite athletes are seen sneaking in caffeine up to the allowed measures before and during intense competition. A lot of the studies I read are based on a huge intake of caffeine (400mg +), which I think is unwise. Who wants headaches, the shakes, bad stomach and nausea?.  I find a coffee (about 100mg caffeine) pre-training is effective. It gets the buzz on and that alertness alone is worth it. Plus, there is the great taste and social side of coffee. Just don´t drink the cans of sugar with caffeine like Red Bull. Disaster.

8. Probiotics

Most people have the unfortunate task of taking antibiotics occasionally when all else has failed. Some even take them before all else has failed. Either way, they are bad news for the system killing useful flora and pathogenic bacteria and taking a form of probiotic when on a cure is very wise. As is eating probiotic rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut, yoghurt and some cheese. There are many and varied forms of probiotic, and much debate about their usage. I am a believer in the importance of gut bacteria and the need for the party inside to keep skipping to the grooviest beat imaginable. If you pump yourself full of toxins, the party will turn into a massive hangover. Not good.

9. Lime

Ok, barman speaking. Lime juice from fresh, juicy limes is THE essential ingredient in the bar. That is good enough reason for it to be included as an essential supplement: it makes cocktails go from decent to awesome. Plus it helped Captain Cook keep his men from dying form scurvy during his epic voyages across the Pacific in the 18th Century. Lime is the solution to most problems. It makes you and your cooking and drinks feel, taste and smell good. And the oils are great when you happen to have a bath. First make a jug of sugar-free Mojitos, squeeze some lime oil into the bath, get in and party on.

10. Cinnamon

The humble spice that is hitting the headlines. My mum always told me to add cinnamon to cooking and sprinkle on salads, but I never listened, as I thought it was just to add to a Café Latte. No, no, no.  Cinnamon helps maintain blood sugar levels, reduce triglycerides, prevents insulin resistance, contains dietary fiber, calcium and zinc, helps maintain your hair and nice skin and increases sex drive.  Woohoo.  We all know that too many bicep curls decreases sex drive because you become so awesome you forget about the opposite sex. Keep some cinnamon in your gym bag as a reminder. Now, adding cinnamon to everything is not so advisable, but keep a few sticks on the kitchen bench, and if you feel in the mood, knock up this great little cocktail I have trailed to immediate success:

Primal Apple Cake Cocktail

6cl Havana Club

Juice of 1-2 limes

1 spoon of runny honey

10 mint leaves

Half a Granny Smith apple chopped up

Half a cinnamon stick

Place all ingredients in shaker with cubed ice, shake hard, double strain into chilled cocktail glass. ENJOY.

That’s my top 10 for now. Just to add to your general wellness really, socially as well as physiologically. Supplement away, just get healthy on natural life first.

 

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Essential reads: Food and Western Disease by Prof. Staffan Lindeberg

“A book that represents a paradigm shift in how modern medicine is beginning to understand the link between diet and disease”

Professor Loren Cordain

I discovered this book in rather odd circumstances. Being a Melanesianist, I was searching for references in Papua New Guinea on sporting practice and, as you often do when at a loss, you scour the bibliography of any text that remotely resembles your thematic or regional topic. I came across reference to the Kitavan study, an investigation into the health of a small island population in the Trobriands, famous in anthropological circles as the so-called birthplace of modern fieldwork practices in the early 1900s.

Staffan Lindeberg, a Swedish physician and professor of family medicine at Lund University is one of the absolute leading authorities in the world of nutritional science, and has finally translated to English his original work in Swedish (2003 Maten och folksjukdomanar: ett evolutionsmedicinskt perspektiv, revised 2008). The new 2010 edition Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective is a lifelong journey of research in evolutionary medicine that ought to be read by anyone interested not only in medicine and nutrition, but also those who wonder how to optimize their health based on real evolutionary science. This is a life changer.

Lindeberg traces all the major diseases of modern civilization, giving each a chapter of its own and discussing how the Western diet is responsible for practically all diseases that afflict the human population. Each condition, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis, insulin resistance and autoimmune disease to name but a few, is linked through scientific evidence to our nutritional practices. This is what many suspect, and the whole Paleo/Primal blogosphere is full of various takes on how to articulate this, often sensationalising the issue in order to gain a following. Not so with Lindeberg.

An incredible 2034 references are included in a 93 page bibliography, making this masterpiece an essential textbook for future research on disease and diet. His writing style is both sceptical and humble, without any elaborate or unnecessary hyperbole you´ll commonly find in less scientifically orientated works. Not to say that this is too daunting a read for the layman. I have no background in medicine apart from an old girlfriend who went to med school and snuck me into anatomy class one day to help dissect a sheep’s brain.  But I still managed to read it with great interest and develop a thirst for more knowledge about this fascinating subject.

The Kitavan study showed that only 0.2% of the caloric intake of the population came from Western food, such as edible fats, dairy products, refined sugar, cereals and alcohol. Subsisting exclusively on root vegetables, tropical fruits, fish and coconuts (in other words extremely high saturated fat – lauric acid as opposed to palmitic acid in Western countries), the Kitavans did not suffer sudden cardiac death. In fact, the Kitavans showed little or no signs of common Western diseases, being at the time (1980s) almost totally isolated from the poisoning foodstuffs. More can be read on this fascinating study here.

From an evolutionary point of view, Lindeberg makes no claim to romanticize the ideal of the all-encompassing “original paleo diet” espoused in essentialized ways by many in the Paleo blog world. Our “ancestors”, as it were, were spread out over vast areas, occupied diverse environments, were subjected to drastic changes in available foodstuffs, and importantly, developed a metabolic and digestive system long before they became human-like and bipedal, some 6 million years ago. Some periods would have preferenced a more vegetarian-like diet says Lindeberg, and others would have been adapted to a high meat intake, ´neither position excludes the other…we may be adapted to any kind of food without necessarily being dependent on it for high reproductive success´(p. 30).

Early humans certainly ate the food that was available and provided the energy required to survive such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, insects, larvae, wild game meat, fish, shellfish and root vegetables. The relative proportions consumed of each of these however, is methodologically hard to determine and have been highly variable depending on habitat, yet Lindeberg reminds us that crucially

“The discussion about human´s ancient diets is often misdirected to a debate on meat verses plant foods. Thereby, the main point is missed: most of the calories in Western countries are provided by foods that were practically unavailable during human evolution” (p. 34).

Lindeberg sees very few risks with a Paleolithic diet, which he suggests consists of the following foods:

Lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, root vegetables, tap water and nuts

Vary your meals and allow for the odd compromise meal, but not if you suffer illness such as autoimmunity, bowel disorder, type 2 diabetes, myocardial infarction etc.

“The optimal human diet is more than just a diet of our ancestors; it appears to have the potential to prevent many of the common health problems of the West” p. 224

Overall, this is an amazing book. It isn´t cheap though, costing $80 at Amazon, but I managed to score a copy on loan at the library here. I will get a copy at some stage though. It is full of useful facts and reminders, and ought to be widely read.

 

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Physical health and holism: Solomon Islands perspective

Sport in nature, Solomon style. Easy.

As anthropologists, we are continually searching for new or revised understandings of the present human complex by comparing and contrasting people, groups, cultures and patterns of interaction and adaptation. To do this we need to appreciate and account for the historical record in terms of evolutionary change as well as searching for clues that can help us locate and analyze the particular complex taking place today. We do this to enable a broader sense of understanding and respect for changes that are contextual and multifaceted. Let me give an example from my field in Solomon Islands and show how this relates to the need for more nuanced understandings of health and fitness today.

The Solomon Islands has a population of about 550 000 made up of some 900 sparsely populated islands in the south west Pacific. It’s an isolated place, gets few visitors and is utterly fascinating and beautiful in terms of its inhabitants and natural environment. Ideal then for an anthropologist to get involved in sports ethnography in a region traditionally looked at from more mainstream thematic perspectives of kinship, ecology, gender, nationalism, religion etc. The locals are sports mad, especially for soccer, and have flown the national flag at successive FIFA beach soccer and futsal world cups. (More on these amazing players and Solomon Islands in later posts)

I’ve spent months living in Solomon Islands on and off for the past few years in conjunction with my doctoral work at the University of Bergen, and have been able to gain access to, and participate in most aspects of the local society in order to understand and appreciate the pervasive nature of sporting practice there. I have lived, played, coached, travelled abroad with and shared day to day routines with young soccer players, interviewed prominent officials and government representatives as well as spending extensive time searching through archival records from the colonial past. In other words, my methodologies have been primed through academic training in more classical British anthropology, but also with my own form of experiential ethnographic approach that has seen me literally do what I study.

Natural, naked play...as we should

Where does this get us, and how does it relate to modern practical and theoretical comprehension of the human body in relation to physiological health and its adjustments to the social issues facing us today?. Well, a number of things stand out from my work that I’ll endeavour to incorporate more generally into the framework of Primal Movers.

  • Confirmation of the fact that a lot of what we know today regarding sporting performance and the factors compounding its expression, have long been with us, yet not adequately extrapolated in terms of the logic of newer ‘scientific reasoning’ that assumes an essentialized cut with the past.
  • Knowledge, as we know it in terms of Western-based empirical systems of understanding performance, is often inadequately imparted on non-Western nation states, stemming from an ethnocentric view of development and/or ‘progress’.
  • ‘More’ is certainly not victorious over ‘less’ in terms of the vast majority of training methodologies I have both used myself and with others. This logic only makes sense on the scoreboard of a match. Training more can produce some short term results, but inevitably has longer term negative consequences if pushed upon a body that is not hormonally or holistically in balance with its optimized engineered condition. (I’ll talk about this concept in another post)
  • Cordain, Linderberg, Eaton, Harris, Wolf et al may have certain disagreements over the implementation of the Paleo/primal framework as a workable modus operandi for the general public, but they all DO agree upon the fact that Western foodstuffs have had a devastating effect on populations who have until recently subsisted on local produce as the mainstay of their diet. This is shockingly apparent in Solomon Islands, and other Pacific Island nations. (for more see the excellent Kitava study)
  • Periodization, as the less than ideal umbrella term for change in routine, is essential not only for goal orientated results, but for health optimization over the long term. From observing Solomon Islanders working and eating from the land and sea, subsisting on the natural resources, observing the cyclic rhythms of time, and getting plenty of rest, I am convinced that our ideal balance IS true to our optimized engineered condition.
  • Incorporating natural movement as part of your way of being develops both a strong musculoskeletal system as well as enhanced cardiovascular and respiratory capacities. This, combined with proper rest and periodic changes in movement intensity certainly forestalls injury occurrence and burnout, as it is naturally less severe on your glycolic pathway. (I’ll write about my ideas behind overtraining and its effects on insulin release, cortisol and adrenal production and suppression issues in a later post)

    National Bilikiki team...4 world cup appearances

Ok, so participation combined with observation and analysis of historical records is the sine qua non of an anthropological study, and produces qualitative data that can be further interrogated and is hopefully beneficial to both researcher and local population. Compared to (what many have said before me) the less rigorous social, and indeed natural sciences, anthropology lays no claim to a bound up notion of universal truths. What I refer to is the fact that cultural relativism, the raison d’être of what it is that we attempt to do in the field, is questioning the practical and conceptual logics of systems of being, based on a holistic understanding of the diverse human condition.

And for the primal mover?. Solomon Island athleticism, their logic for training, playing, winning, sharing and a whole host of other factors bound up in sporting practice contributes to our ongoing attempt to formulate more accurate, boundary-busting and simplistic understanding of who we are and how we are evolved to function.

My work is not a philosophical pontification of what might have been and may be, in a far off land where the majority of the population still lives a subsistence lifestyle. It is not even an attempt to romanticize what existence is like in a world less tarnished by Western intrusion, in a sort of “us verses them” dichotomy. My aim here is to give a brief introduction to the way the discipline seeks answers from the past, to situate the present, and to unmask what needs to be focused upon in the future.

I used myself as a methodological tool to help investigate how sport is played, perceived and affects the people of a small island state. I learnt how they trained, ate, relaxed, theorized and lived out their passion for the game. I taught them some things I knew, like training principles for different physical purposes, the effects of the Tabata protocol, CrossFit style training, some of the science behind the natural nutritional opportunities of the islands vis-à-vis the Chinese imported carbohydrate and artificial sweetener calamity. They taught me how to properly climb coconut trees and dive deep down for barracuda. They broadened my understanding of physical health and wellbeing, more specifically, how Western notions are so incomplete and fraught with hidden agendas that continually derail logical fitness and nutritional programs.

If I was not sure before that we have much to learn when it comes to a holistic integration of social, physical, nutritional and evolutionary forms of bodily function, then the Solomon Islands has ingrained this in me. Stop wasting time waiting for someone else to debunk someone else’s idea on optimal performance, and for heavens sake, don’t take as gospel what you read in the traditional media. Eat fresh, natural foods, rest lots, exercise and move naturally and energetically daily, smile and enjoy your world around you. Solomon style.

 

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