CrossFit and Paleo: the Secrets to a Celebrity Body?

What seems to be the latest celebrity fashion statement? Six pack abs! And they’re not just for men anymore.

A number of celebrities, including Sin City’s  Jessica Alba, True Blood‘s Joe Manganiello and country superstar Tim McGraw, have credited their physical transformation to a combination of a low carb or paleo diet with a CrossFit exercise program.

Jessica Alba, in order to get in shape for the Sin City sequel, followed a low-carb, high-protein diet and she avoids processed foods. She also trains with a CrossFit coach- fitness expert Yumi Lee. Alba seems satisfied with the results, telling British GQ magazine:

“I have to enhance what I like about my body and my stomach is good. My legs I’m not as excited about all the time, but I wouldn’t cover up my stomach.”

Instagram

Instagram

Lee happens to be married to CrossFit trainer Ron Matthews, who trains Manganiello, who’s been named the hottest bachelor of 2014 by People magazine. He’s been on the Paleo diet to maintain his chiseled physique. As he told the Examiner:

I wake up at the same time every day to get to the gym. I work out six days a week to look like Alcide: big and strong, but light on his feet and agile like a werewolf. When I’m training for ‘True Blood,’ I don’t eat any sugar except for some fruit here and there. So it’s no sugar, no bread, no real carbs all day.”

Manganiello works out twice a day. In the morning, his routine includes Olympic-style weight-lifting, lunges, box jumps, and overhead push-presses. Later in the day, he does a half-hour sprint-interval run on the treadmill.

Country singing superstar Tim McGraw also credits a paleo diet and CrossFit training for his recent 40 pound weight loss and ripped abs.

What is the “paleo diet”?

The idea that eating like our stone age ancestors is healthier than modern diets was first proposed 28 years ago in 1985, the same year that Kellan Lutz was born.  The basic idea is modern humans are fat and unhealthy because what we eat today is not what we were genetically programmed to eat before the invention of agriculture when prehistoric humans, using stone tools (“paleoliths”), hunted and gathered their food from wild sources.

What can you eat (and not eat) on a paleo diet?

Yes

Paleo Diet

Paleo Diet

The foods readily available to paleolithic-era humans included muscle and organ meats, bone marrow, fish and shellfish, eggs,  fruits, roots, nuts and berries but also insects and their larvae (modern “paleo diets” seems to skip several of these delicacies).  For the paleo diet, meats should be grass-fed. Eggs are allowed as well. Refined oils (such as vegetable, canola, etc.) are replaced by olive, walnut, flax seed, macadamia, avocado and coconut oils.  The only beverages allowed are water, coconut water and green tea

No

What you’re not allowed to eat on a paleo diet are milk products, grains (including whole grains), legumes (including peanuts), sugar, salt and processed foods. Honey is allowed on an occasional basis.

What are the benefits and risks?

Medical research has shown that paleolithic-type diets are both safe and effective in improving disease risk factors in both healthy people and patients with type 2 diabetes or heart disease.  In addition, paleo diets are more satisfying per calorie than other diets, such as the Mediterranean diet.  Although more research is needed, paleo-type diets may be useful in preventing stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit, Inc. is a fitness company founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000.  CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics (jump training), powerlifting, gymnastics, kettlebell lifting, calisthenics, strongman and other exercises. The workout consist of what is often described as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.”

The Chicago Fitness Report explains it this way:

“Constantly Varied”: The workout routine is always changing, either in which exercises are done, or in the heaviness of the weights, the number of repetitions, and/or the duration of the activity. Proponents say that the variety helps participants develop different components of fitness (such as endurance, strength, coordination, agility and so on) while minimizing the risk of overtraining. Workouts are typically structured so that there is a rest period of 48 hours for each muscle group.

“Functional Movements”: Functional movements are movements based on real-world situational biomechanics, such as throwing, lifting or pulling. They use multiple muscle groups and are considered more time-efficient than working each muscle on it’s own.

“High Intensity”: Several  sequences of peak activity such as a set of pull-ups are alternated with an active “rest” period, such as a 400m run.
Basic-CrossFit-Workout-Infographic1-735x229

What are the benefits and risks?

There are actually a few small studies which look at the benefits of a cross-fit workout program. One, done Ohio State University, looked at 54 men and women who completed a 10 week high-intested power training (HIPT) program which consisted of  “lifts such as the squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, and overhead press performed as quickly as possible.” At the end of this period,
all of the participants improved their aerobic fitness, decreased body fat and gained lean muscle. However, the study also pointed out a relatively high injury rate.

Bob Harper, coach on The Biggest Loser, is a proponent of the cross-fit workout. He answers critics by saying:

“My only response to that is any form of exercise can be unsafe if you don’t have the proper coaching, education and guidance. CrossFit is all about constantly-varied, high-intensity movements. And to do these movements, you have to have a certified coach to take you through this — or any type of physical activity.

One possible risk that is worrisome is something called rhabdomyolysis (often shortened to “rhabdo”). Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of  a protein called myoglobin into the blood. This substance is harmful to the kidney and often cause kidney damage. Rhabdomyolysis is characterized by muscle pain, tenderness, weakness and swelling of the affected muscles. It can be caused by severe exertion, such as marathon running or calisthenics. It is believed to be fairly rare in the medical literature.

unclerhabdoHowever, if you search the internet, you can find a fair amount of information about rhabdo traded between CrossFit Trainers. Rhabdo is familiar enough to those trainers that they have even adopted a cartoon character, Uncle Rhadbo, right,  as an unofficial mascot.

The bottom line: Healthy and exercise are very important components of healthy living. But make sure that you are using well-trained, certified trainers when embarking on any exercise program. AND listen to your body- pain is the main way it tells you that something is wrong.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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