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


Level 2 Valued Member
Hi Bill,

Sorry to hear that you and your wife are suffering right now.

Obviously the diet you have at the moment isn't working for you and something needs to change. There are also a lot of people on the internet who have something to sell or are just convinced that what works for them will work for everyone so it's sometimes difficult to find the right answer. It's easy to recommend a diet (paleo, warrior, low carb) because it's a proven formula, and even easier to tell people they are doing it wrong because if you followed the formula then it would obviously work right?

I'm not criticising anyone, I'm just trying to let you know where I'm coming from. After a year of going to the gym (not really knowing what I was doing) I still hadn't lost the fat I wanted, so I looked at better ways to train (Kettlebells and Pavels Hardstyle system. Awesome!), and better ways to eat. I started on the warrior diet which I quite enjoyed but it was sometimes awkward as I was the only one in my family doing it. Because of this awkwardness I moved to a more primal diet, got good results on that and then lightened up on the whole primal thing and am currently eating a fairly low carb diet, but not so strict. The point is it isn't a program, it's something I kind of 'felt' for myself, and this I think is key. Everyone is different. Everyones body chemistry, hormone levels etc are different.

A couple of posts ago you listed the food you were eating and it seemed to me that it was low carb AND low fat. Have you tried increasing the amount of fat you eat?

Just to share, here's what I eat. I train before I eat in the morning but my training is only light at the moment (mainly just swings) because I've got a shoulder injury (been going on too long!) I'm resting.

Before training: water and fish oil

After training: Protein shake (undenatured whey protein), berries &  natural yogurt

6 mile cycle to work

mid morning: Smaller protein shake, banana

lunch: Salad made of leaves, feta cheese, beetroot, tomatoes, protein (i.e. chicken or high quality sausages, high quality burgers, tuna etc), pear. Dressing made with extra virgin olive oil (lots) and balsamic (not too much).

Afternoon snack: apple

6 mile cycle home

Evening: A large meal made with something like chicken, broccoli (covered in lots of butter), sweet potato

Indulgence: a few squares of very dark chocolate, glass of red wine.

I also have a full fat latte most days

I'm not suggesting you eat like me, as this is something I've worked out for myself and at the moment it seems to be working. The most important thing for me is that I enjoy my food (I do) and I feel satiated. I eat light in the mornings and ramp it up during the day. The fat in the yogurt, cheese, oil, lattes and the butter help to keep me satiated, and after a day of kettlebell swinging and cycling, the sweet potato is very welcome.

If you don't feel satiated on your diet your body is obviously lacking something. Better to find that 'something' (more fat? more carbs?) and enjoy your life than stick to a formula that' making you miserable and making you lose muscle.

One final thing, I haven't used them myself but I've heard good things about precision nutrition ( They seem to have an individual approach.

Keep us posted.



Level 5 Valued Member
I think that any one diet is not perfect for anyone. I just try to watch portions,try not to eat as much sugar,no refined flours.

I drink beer.

Still losing weight thanks to this and a good diet of SFG Swings and Presses.


Level 4 Valued Member
Hi Bill,

Just thought I would add that your experiment was a success, not a failure.  You established a fact -- that you and your wife personally are not suited to very low carb diets.  Experiments are to discover, not to prove.


Level 3 Valued Member
Yes, very good point indeed, Matt. Thank you for straightening out the perspective. I've always said that things happen for a reason.


Level 1 Valued Member
Hi, my experience (MY, I underline) with low carb paleo was very bad.

I did it for a little (eating very high fat) and felt horrible. My training session were very bad and my whole life too, so I switch to a low carb with post wo refeed. The situation was better but in the long period testosterone and other blood parameters went down.

At that point I decided (helped by a very good trainer I FORTUNATELY met) to introduce carb every day, in the form of basmati and potatoes.  The intake was cycled and continued for three months. The rest of diet was stricly paleo. Testosterone went up, blood parameters returned ok, strenght increased A LOT.

In that period of "reset" I gained 10 kg, mainly muscle, but obviously gained some fat.

Now I'm eating paleo but I cicle carbs, up when I train (lunch and dinner), zero when I dont.

I' m going down with %bf (I'm going to do a plico to have measurable parameters, but it's visible) and streght and muscle are ok.

I think that low carb paleo works only for a restricted period if youre an athelete with good muscle (not a bodybuilder....but normal) who train quite heavy.

And we must consider life too. If you work (unfortunately I have to) and have a normal social life stress is an issue. And it consume lots of "fuel".

If you dont work, train and have two or three day to spend sleeeping and recovery, ok low carb works, but this is definitely not my case.

In my opinion paleo is a very good scheme, expecialy for health in the long period, but must be adapted to the specific life of the athlete. And strenght and blood parameters are very important to be measured.


Level 3 Valued Member
Bill, I can see you with your steamed broccoli, it is not funny, but your feeling is so well explained... restrictive diet doesn't work very well with strength training. Geoff side effects list is very logical. The most tricky is to know exactly how much carbs you need to train and recover, and don't put on fat. It is possible to calculate the real energy expenditure for a specific training in laboratory.
This can be the start of another post :
Why a restrictive diet on this SF forum, we are all supposed to train ?
A qualitative diet, OK, but why restrictive ? exception for " bad fats " ( cream and butter? Depends of the quantity ).
If diet is for fat loss, better to train harder, my opinion only.


Level 6 Valued Member
As another data point, I've been eating pretty strict paleo for a couple years. The last few weeks, I've started lifting barbells for the first time. I've been eating as much as I can, including lots of tapioca, coconut milk, sweet potatoes, butter, etc, and my weight has been going up about 3 pounds a week -- none of it at my waistline.

I totally agree that some of the messages about what constitues paleo are confusing. For example, Robb Wolf has said that his book is written towards the fat and sedentary, not hard-charging athletes. Those of us who are already lean and are pushing our bodies seem to do better with some carbs.


Level 6 Valued Member
This article and the two follow up parts might provide some clarity



Level 3 Valued Member
Matt, I can't find on your link something on andropause, because most of the posts on this topic are written by males dieting ?


Level 4 Valued Member
Her name is Diana Schwarzbein.  If you search her name or "Schwarzbein Principle" something will come up.  I read her book a few years ago.  Very sane.  Eating real food, controlling carbs but including them.  She is an endocrinologist.  Similar to Geoff's work on not over-exercising.  "You don't lose weight to get healthy, you get healthy to lose weight."

Good Robb Wolf link.  I could summarize my diet as "evolved caveman."


Level 6 Valued Member
Two points:


A) I 'd take a stronger look at the training aspect of this. Training hard for 3-4 hours with lighter weights sounds exactly like a formula to go into a catabolic state and be sacrificing mass/strength in favor of endurance. (It seems to me that your wife changed two variables but one gets 100% of the blame for the results.)

B) I know there are a thousand and one 'paleo' diets out there now (Coming soon, "Paleo for Kittens"!) but no carb is more like the first phase Atkins diet then the diet advocated by any of the main 'paleo' boosters.  First phase of the Atkins diet was concerned was concerned with weight loss as the bottom line.  If you are already healthy and fit and not carrying a lot of extra weight but eating a weight lose diet then, yes you are going to lose muscle mass and performance.

I can't see anything without a sizable serving of vegetables (and a smaller serving of nuts and fruit) being legitimately called 'paleo'.

David V

First Post
Hey Bill, here is my experience.  I lived on low carb paleo for close to a decade and would periodically try no carbs to get into "fat burning" mode.  I made sure to eat plenty of fat (coconut oil, saturated fat like grassfed butter) and my meat choices were pretty good (we buy most of our beef from a local grass-fed only farm), etc.  Nevertheless, i felt tired, but because i would eat a few sweet potatoes now and then and berries and other fruit, i survived for years trying to willpower myself to a "cleaner" Paleo diet.  But finally i got tired of being exhausted and started reading about problems with paleo.

I decided to try higher carbs.  Steelcut oatmeal with brown sugar for breakfast, lots of white potoates, more milk, etc.  My energy and strength levels jumped in a few weeks.  I went from working out with double 24kg KBs overhead to double 32kgs pretty much overnight.   I don't know what the right diet is, but my version of Paleo did not work.  It is a low carb diet in my opinion.  Devany, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson - they all advocate a certain amount of carb restriction, or at least did.  Low carb is not "no" carb, but i just seem to be happier and stronger on a higher carb diet.  Getting carbs from berries and veggies is not enough for me, and insulin is anabolic.

One theory is that low carb stimulates the adrenals, which provides energy and fat loss for some, but also causes some people to burn out.  I know i felt burned out and stressed, which affected my work as well as my sleep.

I don't doubt some people have had great success on paleo, but i did not and i tried it for a long time.


Level 1 Valued Member
Hang on a second.  5 lbs of muscle loss in 3 weeks?  I guess that's possible, but that rapid a decline would probably be something you'd otherwise notice in your health.  Something's off.

Dexa may be called the most trusted, but it is definitely not 100% accurate.  No system is.

This page discusses how levels of hydration can make a big impact on Dexa results.; see also

This isn't to say that the version of ultra-low carb you're doing is good or bad.  But I wouldn't leap off any tall buildings after 3 weeks based on Dexa analysis.


Level 1 Valued Member
There are a lot of various "Paleo" diets, and most are not necessarily low carb. If you aren't trying to lose weighty, then you almost certainly don't want a very low carb diet. Primal Blueprint and Whole 30 both talk about this. Even Dr. Cordain has a book out with a higher carb count for athletes.

Generally, diet for weight loss and diet for athletes are very different. Mix in differences for individuals, and it gets even messier.

The folks who run Whole 30 I think have the best balance in general. But it takes time to find what works.


Level 3 Valued Member
mcneuen brings up some interesting points - one possible source of error could be glycogen depletion. every gram drop in muscular glyogen also drops 2 grams H2O... gives the appearance of lean body mass loss when really no tissue loss has occurred at all.

my favorite body composition indicator remains to be pullup performance (relative to oneself)


Level 3 Valued Member
David, thank you for your input. Have you tracked your lean mass & fat % numbers at all?

Mcneunan, good points. She was actually going to talk with them about a re-scan when she returns from the States, as it just doesn't seem right. The odd thing with her though, is that she doesn't generally see or feel health issues one would associate with drastic results. When her thyroid went wonky, the Dr. was amazed she wasn't showing many signs she would have expected with blood work the way hers looked. She is out to lose weight, but that kind of crazy pure lean mass loss just doesn't seem right... though it does show in her lack of strength and the fact the inches did not come off where the fat is, and where they usually come off if she loses.

Travis, good points, but our diet did have a tremendous amount of veggies & some nuts.

I went much higher volume on my Sunday "re-feed", including "good" carbs, which translated to a slightly better Monday (the fast), but strength was still pretty non-existent on the evening workout, so I opted for some light bottoms-up work. We finish this insanity Monday, I'll get my scan Tuesday, and with that data I can begin a new approach. Mine will be pure gain, so of course truckloads of protein & BCAA's for workouts, heavy on carbs on workout days, not so much on off days. Try to avoid too many "white" carbs. See if I can bring lean mass up without fat increase, which is never easy. Gonna do my best to do a light week or 2, then hit it hard again for a month, re-scan, see what happens.


Level 3 Valued Member
So for anyone caring to hear the follow up and end of my program... and I sincerely hope there are a few of you, the end results... I lost 1% fat, and 6% of my lean mass. This was according to Dexascans done at the same time of day, by the same technician. I did this on a very low carb diet, that included radical increase in protein. I brought the fats up part way through as a result of good feedback here. My strength DECREASED by roughly 25-30%. I trained hard.

So... while I respect many will defend Paleo, and for them it may work (though I encourage anyone claiming so to use accurate and consistent measurements like Dexa or something), I know that my results, as well as that of my wife, and another gentleman in my gym, demonstrate the fact this kind of eating protocol can also be very dangerous for some people. For me, my muscle loss, as measured by % of my mass, tracked  over a period of time, was greater than it was when I had cancer. People, losing that kind of lean mass over that short of a time period (30 days) is not healthy. You can shout from the rooftops all you want about the "good" food choices I was making, but the end result of those choices did not make me a healthier person, nor a stronger one. And most certainly not a happier one.

This isn't to rip on Paleo or get into a pissing contest about any of it. I knew what I was doing, suspected early on that I was going the wrong direction, but made the decision to ride it out and essentially "take one for the team". This way there are no questions, no conjecture. For ME, I could have tossed the plan and "saved myself", but I had a higher purpose. I can hopefully help others now who may be like me and the others this didn't work for. May not have the answers as to what exactly to do just yet, but at least we know what NOT to do.

For what its worth, I spoke at length with the technician. She scans a lot of competitors in a variety of sport, including body building, etc. She said based on the thousands of scans she does, it is her experience that active and athletic people almost always experience lean mass loss greater than fat loss when attempting low and no carb eating plans. It has happened that some have not, but it is very rare. Those who are sedentary and/or have high fat content to start with more typically see good results.

Some of you may want to "shoot the messenger" for the message, but I am simply delivering the data. I used myself as a guinea pig, and am providing the results. Do with it as you wish, but please do look at it objectively. I've lost a lot of time in the pursuit of my goals as a result, but its my desire to have a greater good come from it.

Now for me personally... time to do things MY way and go kick some a#@.
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