What do the archeological records show about the body composition of paleo people? Were they lean and muscular? Are there guesses about their percent body fat? Did they lean out in the winter and gain some body fat when food was more plentiful?
I'm interested to know because I partly got into Paleo because I thought it was an effortless way to get shredded. I'm 48 and when I was in my mid-30's I was 10% body fat. I did chronic cardio (40 minutes on the stairmaster 5 days a week), I ate a Zone diet (40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat) with lots of crappy food choices, and I kept my calories at about 1,500 per day. I imagine it was the calorie deficit (low calories plus all that cardio) that made me lean.
If Paleo man was not shredded then is it just a stereotype, and not a very true one, that all the body fat falls off (including those pesky last 10 pounds) on Paleo? Now, I'm not complaining. I'm at 15 1/2 % body fat now and I imagine I could lose those last 10 pounds of fat with some combination of serious calorie counting, more cardio, and lowering my cortisol levels. My concern is that we're painting the picture that Paleo is the holy grail of fat loss.
For the record, I'm not equating ripped with healthy. I love Paleo for the health benefits. I just want to lose those last 10 pounds!
asked bySol (5828)
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on March 22, 2012
at 05:08 PM
As Melissa said, its impossible to gauge the bodyfat levels of paleolithic humans; however, we can look at non-industrial, modern hunter-gatherer societies today, and possibly at art and sculpture from the paleolithic era, to get a pretty close picture.
So, was the paleolithic era an image of a gym filled with ultra-ripped people, carrying their kill on their backs? Probably not; that is a romanticized vision of it. Were paleo people generally lean, of a reasonable level of fitness, and physically able (would your typical deskbound 9-5 guy be able to clamber up a tree to escape a predator? Probably not)? probably yes. My thoughts are that paleo peoples' bodyfat and fitness levels, and muscular development varied accross tribes, because there are so many more factors that can affect this than eating an unprocessed diet.
Lack of exposure to neolithic agents of disease gives a framework for relatively fit and lean people. However, body composition will vary according to cultural, geographical, and lifestyle factors. Are they predominantly hunters, or gatherers? A tribe living in a hostile environment, having to depend on very energy-intensive hunting & avoidance of predators to survive will probably have some very ripped people; the weapons they use will also define how they are built (a tribe using, say, spears and javelins, which develop the upper body significantly); if you look at African tribes, they have a lot of very ripped members (ex http://www.paleotraining.co.uk/userimages/hunter-gatherer.jpg; http://www.sacredcamelgardens.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ancient_man.jpg ).
Or do they live in a more bountiful environment, with plenty of vegetation (including tubers, nuts, etc), and, perhaps, some fish & seafood, where the more hospitable nature of the environment means they have more slow-paced life? I think the Kitava tribe are a great example of this (this is a great documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-o4U2rhTZ4). They mainly live off the land with yams and coconut being staples, to which they add small amounts of fish. They spend much of their time sitting around, gossipping, and partying (yam festivals!) - they are evidently healthy and relatively lean, but not 'ripped' as those living in harsher environments.
Culturally, how are the roles split between genders, what are the hierarchies that split the members of the tribe? In a very inhospitable environment, women will probably require the same survival skills (pulling oneself up a tree, jumping over ledges, climbing rocks) as men; some tribes may have equal roles between men and women; in such tribes, women will also look quite 'ripped'; conversely, in a tribe where women are the gatherers rather than hunters, where they are more sedentary, they may have a greater bodyfat percentage. Also, what are the cultural ideals about the female body? Are women encouraged to be overweight?
There is, in fact, within the white moor Arab population of Mauritania, young girls are force fed to make them fat. They eat grains (in fact, the women are fattened up using camel's milk and couscous), so they are definitely not representative of pre-agricultural man, but nevertheless it is interesting to see how hard it is to become obese on a traditional diet, even one which includes grains. The girls that undergo force-feeding have to eat enormous quantities and go through much stress in the process, which would have been much easier if they had imported, say, modern junk food. Also, this shows how culture can influence the body composition of peoples.
There is an article here about 'venus figurines' of a very obese woman from the Paleolithic era (http://donmatesz.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/venus-figurines-and-upper-paleolithic.html), which seemed to go against what one thought of paleolithic peoples' body composition; the thing is, we do not know the context. Within a beehive, the workers work for the Queen Bee, who is larger than them; we do not know whom the figurine represented; for all we know, it could have been a representation of an eternally fertile woman in a society where women were expected to be quite plump, and sedentary; the possibilities are endless.
Thus, the bottom line, in my opinion, is that a traditional diet that minimises exposure to NAD's is a great framework for a lean and healthy body; how far you take it, however, depends on you. Eating real food is the best you can do no matter what kind of body composition you wish to achieve.
Thats my take on things! Anthropology is one of the most engaging subjects out there, no doubt.
on March 23, 2012
at 02:20 AM
"combination of serious calorie counting, more cardio, and lowering my cortisol levels"
This doesn't strike me as a strategy that is in alignment with the principles of the Paleo template. The whole Calories In / Calories Out (CICO) concept is highly suspect so I'd steer clear of the 'eating less and exercising more' regime. Check out Jimmy's recent interview It???s Time To Move ???Beyond Caloriegate??? with Adam Kosloff for a different take on things. The use of Body Fat measurement is also starting to be challenged, Mark has a nice piece on his blog here. To get rid of the last 10 pounds it seems that intermittent fasting can be a successful technique (note that this shouldn't be confused with calorie counting) but you need to have the right foundation in place first so you don't suffer from blood sugar crashes.
on March 23, 2012
at 04:25 PM
Ripped = Abs are clearly visible all the time, vascularity in arms is prominent, chest and back separation is obvious, and face is starting to appear more angular. Condition can be held indefinitely. Approximate bodyfat level = 7-9%
Shredded = Striations appear in large muscle groups when they are flexed. You look small in clothes, but look fantastic when you're not. Vascularity appears in lower abdomen and in the legs. Condition can be held for several days with careful dieting. Competitive bodybuilders often aim for this state for competition day. Approximate bodyfat level = 5-7%
on March 23, 2012
at 11:27 AM
I'll answer this with a question: What are the evolution advantages to being ripped/shredded?
Would paleo man survive longer in that state?
If by ripped or shredded, you mean very lean to the point of exposing a six pack, let's point out that fat is there to provide a storage buffer for lean times. So certainly before spring, when food was sparse they might be ripped, and after the summer, after fruits were plentiful they might not be. Fat stores could mean the difference between dying and thriving.
They certainly were stronger that today's average office worker, so if by ripped you mean muscular, we know that based on bone density, and a high meat diet, that they were. It's unlikely that they were obese, that much is certain, but I suspect they had a decent amount of fat storage. Whether that's above 5% or 10% is unknown. It's unlikely they were over 20%.
I highly doubt there's anything but pure aesthetics involved in being ripped in your question though. :)
on March 22, 2012
at 03:49 PM
We can't know for certain the body composition of our ancestors, but we can make guesses based off of modern hunterer-gatherers. Based on those estimates, our ancestors were "ripped".
on March 23, 2012
at 12:10 AM
at least we can surmise that they were not morbidly obese; on a side note, without self-control one can get obese even on the cleanest and perfect diet; conversely, with enough determination one can get ripped even on the saddest 'sad': there is no magic bullet in theory, but in PRACTICE - that's the whole another story: no matter how hungry I am, I can eat only so much meat, but cookies or sweet condensed milk - can eat them into oblivion