Paleo + training= 100% muscle loss... wtf?!


Level 3 Valued Member
Ok, so here's a doozy for y'all. I am looking for more than conjecture here, as my wife is an RN, has a degree in integrative nutrition, and is generally not naive in the world of health, body chemistry, etc.

My wife has been doing a Paleo style diet with me and others for 3 weeks now. We did Dexascans before starting, to have the most accurate and trusted information possible. She just went in for another scan yesterday before she leaves for the USA. The results were astonishing... bad! Her overall body fat % has gone UP .4%, and she has lost over 3kg (about 5lbs) of pure muscle. Each arm, each leg has seen significant lean mass reduction, with zero reduction in fat. Her overall fat % went up because she lost muscle, and muscle only. She has been training 3-4 days/week, with admittedly lighter bells due to a back that isn't 100% yet after a minor injury. Though she wasn't lifting heavy, she was training hard for an hour 3-4 days. She did not cheat in any way on the diet. She has stuck to the program and the times of day to eat, despite it being very uncomfortable and unpleasant in every way.

With regard to history, she did have a hypothyroid issue before we moved here, which she does not have current blood work on its current status of. She has felt as though it was pretty well under control, as the hair loss, etc had stopped and last blood tests showed things just about back in line. She had to undergo all that right before we moved due to immigration policies. The only other contributing factor we can come up with would be her age. She is possibly close to menopause, based on the ages her mother and older sister went through it. Other than that, we cannot come up with an explanation.

For myself, I know I have shrunk a lot on this diet, and now of course am worried I have cannibalised my lean mass as well. I know I have in my legs, as they had almost no fat when I started, and now they are so small clothing that wouldn't fit is too big.

Does anyone else have similar experience with measured results... and I don't mean your bathroom scale. Fat % tracking. She was thrilled to be losing weight, but pretty bummed when she found out it was all muscle loss. And the 2nd part is then, with ZERO carbs, rigid Paleo, what the hell does she try next with after this monumental failure?

Quality feedback would be greatly appreciated.



Level 3 Valued Member
good question from daniel.

Since nutrition can get to be a sensitive topic, rather than making a claim as to what is BEST, here's what works for ME:

very low CHO, high FAT approach... red meat slathered in lots of butter, whole eggs, natural peanut butter by the jar, fish oil by the handful (seriously, i measure it in handfuls of pills rather than number of pills).


Level 6 Valued Member
Are/were you both getting at least 1g or protein per lb of bodyweight? And did your carb levels reflect your training levels?


Level 4 Valued Member
Hi Bill,

Check out  The Jaminets are scientists.  They went paleo/very low carb and had good results but side effects.  They recommend including some "safe starches" like white rice and customizing the level to the individual.

If you read any of the low-carb books, it doesn't apply so much to people who are active or muscular.  Personally I bonk without glucose.


Level 3 Valued Member
It was a no carb deal, which I still maintain is insanely unhealthy as an active person. I went loopy the first week and had to start adding tiny bits of carbs just to keep from being imprisoned for murder. But I have people who worked out with kb and got great results on this suicide diet.

Protein levels were pretty high... especially for me. For her, she obviously should have been getting more than she was, but it was stil pretty high protein. We do fish oil, but not by the handful. Good point, Russell. I'll hit the chemist today for a bigger jug than the one I already buy. She does the natural peanut, cashew, almond butters by the jar... makes them herself.

For myself, I'm going to finish out this last week on it with the mods I have been making that keep me at least marginally functional. I'll get my scan, then see what the damages are. I'm heading back to the drawing board & we'll see what comes up. I really appreciate the feedback & welcome any additional.

@ Matt... gonna check that site you sent. Anyone had any luck with Ferris' programs in his book?

Geoff Neupert

Level 6 Valued Member
Beast Tamer

Feel your pain.

Here's some interesting stuff that you can find, but have to search for in the Paleo-sphere.

Some long term "side" effects of Paleo are:

decreased thyroid output
increased total cholesterol and LDL
decreased testosterone
decreased muscle mass
decreased strength levels (partially due to injuries, but even when on the mend, never felt like I could get traction...)
increased cortisol levels

I was doing "Paleo" long before it was called "Paleo." I was a chronic low-carber (< 50g day) for almost 10 years.

Had BF done several times and yes, lost LBM. Routinely.

My investigation started a couple of years ago, around 2009 (OK, 4 years ago) when I noticed I had lost the outer third of my eyebrows, which apparently is a sign of low thyroid production. Upon further research, which I can't site right now, apparently the thyroid needs about 125g of carbs per day  to remain healthy.

I no longer do traditional low carb, and up until recently, my average caloric intake from carbs per week is between 3200-4000 kcal (800-1000 grams) - which I think for health reasons, is even too low.

Here's what I noticed, especially as of late, since I've been eating even more carbs than that:

I sleep WAYYY better
My T levels are up
I'm no longer cold all the time
My muscle mass is increasing (remember, carbs are protein sparing)
My strength has rapidly increased

The downside right now is that my body fat is up, but from everything I've read, that's a short-term reaction. I fully expect it to drop once my body readapts to what it's supposed to run on - fat AND CARBS. (There's a whole 'nother can of worms here to be opened...)

Hope you find this helpful.


Level 6 Valued Member
Paleo doesn't have to be low carb.

Eat meat, eggs, veg, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, fruit, cream, butter, coconut oil, sometimes milk, ideally after a particularly hard or heavy workout...

Geoff Neupert

Level 6 Valued Member
Beast Tamer
aussieluke - It depends on who you listen to, I guess.

This is what Dr Loren Cordain, PhD, "The World's Leading Expert On Paleolithic Diets And Founder of The Paleo Movement" says:

"Lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index – Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables represent the main carbohydrate source and will provide for 35-45 % of your daily calories. Almost all of these foods have low glycemic indices that are slowly digested and absorbed, and won’t spike blood sugar levels."

That leaves out all potatoes and rice.

It's pretty hard to get 45% of your diet from fruits and veggies, btw - at least it is for me, cause I prefer veggies over fruit...



Level 4 Valued Member
@Geoff,  You're right, the downsides of low-carb aren't "side effects."

Thumbs down on high-dose fish oil.  It's unstable.  Look around on the Jaminet's website or

For some easier paleo + glucose reading check out Nate Miyaki's articles at T-Nation.  My favorite website if I was fifteen years old.

Guys who do great as pure carnivores are obviously not as evolved as me.



Level 3 Valued Member

Great stuff, thank you! You're getting me exactly what I am looking for in the way of relative information. Sleep has been difficult at best with this, I already had a lowered testosterone issue going in, strength is definitely not there, and though I haven't had time to find a doc here to start doing blood work again, I suspect the other things you listed would show themselves. Other than testosterone and continued issues keeping my vitamin D up, the rest of my panels were great. I feel I know my body and sh** just isn't right currently.

I am by no means "sold" on paleo or in search of a way to make it work. It simply happened to be a program someone I know and trust has had some good results in the past with. That said, it has been a great real life lesson to demonstrate what my wife and I know to be true... that no one diet is right for everyone. I once tried the vegetarian thing and got so sick so quick it wasn't even funny. I have a sis who insists on being a vegetarian, but....she's a twig that is sick more than she's freaking healthy! Its insane, yet she refuses to accept the fact the rest of us who are carnivores remain very healthy because we don't deprive ourselves what our specific bodies need. Granted, some people can be veggies, but I can't recall the last time I met one that was healthy or looked remotely close to healthy.


But I digress. Thank you again, Geoff. Quick question on your fat going up as a reaction... how long have you been on a new program, and what kind of % gain did you see in the fat?


Level 6 Valued Member
Well people did manage it for a million years or so...

But, most paleo folk seem to have moved on from Cordain's very strict ideas, and I'd sooner listen to Robb Wolf, Kurt Harris, Chris Kresser and Mark Sisson, and use the paleo ideas to make good food choices.


Level 3 Valued Member
The question though, is at what cost? For myself, quality of life has gone completely out the window. Life truly sucks a#@ through a straw... absolutely starving to DEATH 24hrs/day, literally ready at the drop of a hat to gut someone from stem to stern for a sandwich, non-existent strength, can't sleep for crap, libido all but dead, can't think straight.... but I've been making "good food choices". Yeah for me. I'm simply failing to see the benefits of "good food choices". Live longer... like this? Hooray. I'll pass. Truth be told, if it was paleo for health and this life, I'd just assume go back to booze, fast cars, fast bikes, loud music, crazy women, re-joining the rangers and life on the edge, dying in a ball of flames eating pavement on my Harley at top speed years sooner.

There's a way that's right for me, and with some help I know I'll find it. It damn sure isn't Paleo!


Level 6 Valued Member
I don't understand. If you're hungry, eat more. There are no limits on how much you can eat.


Choose good food and eat it to satiety. Try adding more fat (butter, cream, coconut oil etc ) to your food if you truly are eating lots of protein.


Level 3 Valued Member
It isn't possible under this protocol for me personally, to eat until satisfied. There isn't time, nor an apparent end. Here's an example of my most recent meal today... protein shake (all natural, plant-based) with high quality BCAA's and coconut oil added. 6 eggs, 2 chicken sausages, half a giant red pepper, large whole tomato, whole cucumber, 1/3 head broccoli, and 2 protein balls... oh and some other protein goodie thing someone made me. I wolfed that down, and was then ready to eat about half a cow instead of the whole thing. But... I've got stuff to do... I can't stand in the kitchen making this food all day long, eating massive amounts of it in a never-ending quest to feel satisfied. Munched on some veggies after, had another shake. I'd still go to prison if you looked at me wrong right now. For some of us, it simply isn't possible to satisfy the body's needs by depriving it of something and over-compensating with something else. I could EASILY kill a large pizza and a couple giant burgers with bacon and egg right now before you had time to steam a head of broccoli & eat it. ANd today is an off day for me. No workout. Just home working at my desk. Workout days and busy ones... forget it.... miserable is a massive understatement.

I'm steadily upping the fat... I cooked the above mixture in oil, in addition to adding it to my shakes. Its just not getting me there.


Level 3 Valued Member
Ahhh,,,, carbs. the nemesis of Paleo. Yes, mild addition of carbs has taken the razor sharp edge to extremely sharp, handle with care. I'll be throwing my token carbs in tonight at dinner. Still not anything close to sustainable life for me though. Fruit, no. One word... Fructose.

At this point (actually within first few days I knew it), I know I am simply "taking one for the team". To divulge my wife's results and the magnitude of the negatives of this on me, to the rest of the folks in the gym doing this with us, would undermine this endeavor and our trainer's credibility. Last time everyone who did it had terrific results. I would imagine many this time around will have good results(though I suspect one other guy is cannibalising muscle like we are). Because he has not had anyone have such horrific results before, I have agreed to keep it quiet, and provide good hard data on the effects of this program when everything isn't rosy, so that next time, we can hopefully identify those who will not benefit from it either before we start, or early on, and provide them a course-correction. Once I finish this up and have the data, I'll have come up with a new protocol to start, and will then follow that one up yet again with another scan. There's of course food diaries and all that crap too. Right down to recipes and shopping lists that I've amassed.

I appreciate your apparent commitment to defending this diet, which I gather must work for you. That's terrific and I am very glad you have something that works. No amount of selling though will make it work for us. Hell, my prior way of eating doesn't work for 99% of people... how many people can eat anything they want, in absolutely gluttonous quantity, all the time, and be at 15% body fat in their mid 40's? I'm simply looking to tweak and experiment, but also increase my quality of life, or at worst, maintain it. Prior to this diet, I could do anything I wanted, was pretty happy, gaining strength with my new increase in KB training volume and intensity. Tried this to see what happened and be supportive of the rest of the crowd. Now I am miserable, couldn't go for a 2k run if I had to much less a 10-15k one like I used to do from time to time just because, and I've spent a freaking fortune on all this "good choice" bullsh**. In my 20's and 30's, it typically took 8-10k calories/day for me to see 1-2lb gains per month. I have the metabolism of a nuclear reactor.

As for my lovely wife, dunno what happened for sure, but clearly her body must have adopted some kind of crazy cannibalising system designed to preserve fat and eat muscle. Very strange. Needless to say she is off the program now. Because she flies Sunday and will be living in hotels for a while, I've had to scramble & come up with SOMETHING for her, and something as simple as possible. I'm going to go with Timothy Ferris' fat loss protocol & see what that does for her. Its cheap, its easy, its provided some great results (my doctor in the states is one of Tim's docs), and she gets a binge day every week. I've got another week to come up with my program.




Level 1 Valued Member
You both just need to eat more starchy-carbohydrates.

Who told you guys to eat "no carb" anyway? That's dangerous and unnecessary. Extreme-low carb can only really be justified for people with neurological disorders. Even the "ketogenic diet" body builders use to get shredded have a carb refeed about once a week.

The actual "paleolithic diet" was probably around 70% starch anyway. That's what I would try if you want to eat a diet based on how humans supposedly evolved to eat.


Level 6 Valued Member
Where did you get this idea that paleo must be low carb from?


Sure if you're sick or have serious metabolic derangement or an autoimmune disease or neurological problems, yeah low carb paleo is probably the best way to start out and fix yourself. But otherwise if you're healthy enough and train a lot then you will need carbs.


If you can't get enough carbs from seeet potatoes or white potatoes or other starchy veg and fruit (and fructose is fine in small doses, just dont go cramming down several pieces in one hit), then there is little harm in other 'safe starches' such as white rice.


But if you think wheat and sugar are the only answer then go for it.


Level 4 Valued Member
I've done something called carb cycling for a while. It has worked good for me. There is an article called carb cycling for dummies up on tnation. I noticed however that I cut most bread and pasta as I didn't feel so good on it. I've cut back heavily on dairy to.


But since I quit my job and my life situation is changing, goin back to study instead of working in the forest, I thought I would look for something else. I'm reading alot about Paleo atm but I think I'm going to do carb cycling anway.


And for what its worth I'm sorry to hear that all that hard effort did'nt pay off. I hate that mate!
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