Every lifetime athlete benefits from an annual reset of the metabolism. A month is usually enough for most of us. This allows us to restore optimal metabolic health and to “clean up the system” a bit. However, some folks will benefit from a longer reset period, as in several months, particularly if they have “slipped” a little from optimal metabolic function.
[This post is an excerpt from an upcoming book and is based on the reset option within the Planet Based Diet (PBD). The content fits well within the Seasonality principle which emphasizes periodized annual eating. It is also in accordance with the general principles of the PBD including the consumption of natural, earthly foods and avoidance of the Evil Triad (processed grains and starches, refined and concentrated sugars, and industrial seed oils).]
What’s interesting about the aforementioned “slippage” is that metabolic dysregulation and hormonal imbalances are sneaky, insidious devils that can affect any of us. You can still look and feel decent (but probably not amazing) and be cruising along moderately well. For a while. Until you get too close to the cliff of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. That’s when things crash. Blood markers go awry, weight comes on, energy drops, and you find yourself on the accelerated path to the grave. Or you just might not be performing quite up to your expectations. As long as your sleep is on point, your training is appropriate, and your lifestyle and stress management are decent, all that can be avoided by a good reset and then an intelligently designed maintenance aspect of the PBD.
The reset portion of the PBD can best be termed a hard reset using a carnivore-ish model (thanks to Paul Saladino, M.D. for that term). You basically put yourself on a very low carb and probably intermittently ketogenic diet for a month. This is the ultimate elimination diet because it avoids not only processed foods a.k.a. the Evil Triad, but it gets rid of most of the known autoimmune triggers. These include the oxalates, lectins, and phytates in many greens, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, as well as the lactose and casein proteins in dairy. PBD reset month is basically an animal-based diet with a few “safe” plant-based options available to the consumer. There are a couple questions and objections we need to cover before going forward.
Right off the bat…is the PBD a carnivore diet or a vegan approach to nutrition? Neither, and I realize this is a redundant review for existing users of the PBD (most of my coaching clients). If your mind is locked into eating an entirely animal-based, zero carb diet, some of the things we do in the reset won’t completely work for you. And likewise, if you are a truly dedicated vegan who is entirely plant-based, I respect your position but I also respectfully submit that the PBD approach to species-appropriate human nutrition won’t work for you either. Members of either of those camps should look elsewhere for nutritional recommendations so we don’t frustrate each other and waste our mutually valuable time. The PBD is science-based, ancestrally-consistent, and common sense-oriented.
Why does reset month have to be mostly animal-based instead of plant-based? This is a great question and a source of much confusion due largely to the current media landscape. Humans are omnivores, meaning that we have the capability to extract nutrition from both plant and animal sources. However, despite what you may read, hear, or believe, our biology is somewhat more carnivorous than herbivorous. We digest and assimilate animal-based nutrition much better than that which is plant-based. This is decidedly in opposition to what some promoters inaccurately preach. The superior bioavailability of animal products gives your body easy access to optimal nutrition, while it simultaneously removes any potential allergen or gut irritant (of which there are many in the plant world). It’s entirely true that with massive supplementation, you can (only now, in modern times) create an entirely plant-based maintenance diet. But it’s not the optimal human diet and it’s also not a reset diet. The reset is all about the removal of denial. If you have skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and acne or inflammatory issues like low energy, brain fog, and chronically achy joints, chances are you are eating a trigger plant food and you’ll benefit from its removal (pull the trigger).
Are you saying I need to be on a long-term, meat-only diet that is ketogenic? Nope, and thank you for asking because I want to be clear. I like plants. I like fruits and vegetables. I enjoy eating them as part of my healthy PBD. I like the taste, texture, and color. But here is a hard truth. We really don’t eat plants for their miraculous nutrient content, because emerging data suggests that’s just not the case. We eat them because we like them, believe in them, and use them for carb sources. But why lifetime athletes should spend a month (at least, in most cases) every year eating mostly animal products is for two distinct reasons. First, it’s evolutionarily consistent that in the winter months in most of the world, carbs were just not that available until very recent times. Even at the equator, there are seasonal fluctuations in produce availability. We modern humans tend to overlook that point. Second, because we are modern humans, and our diet is carb-heavy (including processed carbs and seed oils which are the real culprits), we need to temporarily restrict carbs to turn back on our fat-burning machinery. That’s what we lose in the Standard American Diet or SAD. Practically everybody is good at burning carbs because they are always eating a crap-ton of them. But burning fat, either that which you ingest or your own stored body fat, is dependent upon metabolic flexibility. Carb-burners are metabolically rigid, not flexible. So we swing the diet the other way temporarily to reset it towards midline. It’s more than just fuel choices…all this metabolic flexibility business is integrally tied to your cellular function and health, reproductive viability, and immune resistance — which is especially important in the era of COVID-19. You need to be metabolically flexible and if you are not…you need to reset. It’s that simple.
Is the reset only about being a meat-loving, carb-hating, keto zealot? Well, I hope you are not thinking that because it is not true. The PBD is a sensible, dare I say intelligent, approach to human nutrition and performance. As I mentioned earlier, I like, consume, and endorse many foods which contain carbs, protein, and fat and that are relatively earthbound and minimally processed. My view is that we need to get adequate, high-quality protein and I do have an educated bias toward animal sources. I also don’t think fat is evil but there are some people who are going to do better long term with lower amounts of it and some with higher amounts of it. Same is true for carbs. If you are healthy and metabolically flexible, and you are highly active like a lifetime athlete, higher carb consumption is often not problematic and in many cases quite beneficial. But you need to be healthy and highly active (and not lie to yourself about that fact), and most of your carbs need to be minimally processed, for your best long-term health. This is science, but it ain’t rocket science.
Now that I’ve addressed those concerns, allow me to describe what a reset month looks like for most of us. It’s a simple set of recommendations, does not feel overly restrictive, and is easy to follow.
- Base foods are red meat (beef, game, lamb, etc.), sea salt, water, eggs (only if you are sure you have no known allergies), bone broth, heavy cream, butter, lard, ghee, tallow, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil. Include organs and bone marrow if you are willing to consume them. Pork, poultry, fish and seafood are also included but try to consume them to a lesser extent because they are less nutrient dense and generally have greater issues with contaminants and toxins.
- Dairy with one exception is out for the month. While there are many people in the population who tolerate dairy consumption to differing degrees, removing it from the diet temporarily eliminates the chance for sensitivity. Heavy cream is included because it is mostly fat and therefore does not contain the proteins or lactose that are problematic for some folks. If you need a splash of cream in your coffee or tea to make your day right, this is why we include it. All other dairy is out for the month, including goat, sheep, and A2 versions. Oat milk, almond milk, and soy milk are not milks..they are highly processed space foods. Not good for your reset.
- Salt is emphasized on this plan because as you limit carbs and your insulin levels get lower, this alters the effects of other hormones such as aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone on your kidneys. Your body will retain less sodium, and you’ll need to make sure your daily intake of salt is 2-4 teaspoons. This is especially important if you are exercising a lot in warm weather. A good tip is to put several teaspoons of salt in a cup on your counter every morning, and then be sure to use it up in your cooking, eating, and drinking by day’s end. Sodium is the master electrolyte and it significantly reduces the likelihood of dizziness, fatigue, or “keto flu” in the presence of this elimination diet (also helps to balance potassium levels). Many people blow off this advice and then end up struggling with symptoms that could have been avoided. If you are hypertensive, sodium sensitive, or on medication for your blood pressure, consult with your healthcare providers before implementing this strategy. Hopefully they’ll be up to speed on the most recent literature.
- “Fruit-based veggies” are used at about 60-100 grams of carb content 1-2 times per week as part of your refeed meals — in which you have a few carbs and a few extra calories to keep your metabolism idling/revving and preventing it from stalling. These are olives, avocados, cucumbers and squash (peeled and seeded) pumpkin, and sweet potatoes (peeled). These foods represent easily digested carb sources that don’t impact your reset negatively at this level. They give you something to look forward to and not feel deprived. I realize that tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers are also technically fruits, but they are nightshades (huge autoimmune triggers for many people) and need to be avoided this month (or permanently).
- Carrots, celery, onions, and garlic can be used as “plate enhancers” to add flavor, color, and texture. This provides variety in your meals while helping to prevent “palate fatigue.”
- Fruits (yes, believe it) are used strategically during a couple of high-intensity workouts per week. The trick is to complete your warmup, then eat a small amount of fruit before your main training component. Call it the “FruitShoot.” This could be a small peach, plum, banana or a handful of berries. You can also have papaya, mango, or pineapple but the portion size will need to be very small as they are higher in sugar/calories. You can even slam a tablespoon of honey. This twice-per-week mini-dose of fruit is less than 100 calories and only about 20 grams of carbs. It does three things. First, it tells your mind and your metabolism that “Hey, we are still getting some carbs now and then” which keeps your cravings and insulin function normalized. Second, because intra-exercise fueling of carbs is taken right into the working muscles, you don’t get the negative effects which might occur if you ate a bag of chips on the couch. Third, this little spike of fuel helps to energize your high output training sessions. There is no need to carb fuel during an easy workout, however. Also, stick with the whole natural food options this month and avoid the maltodextrin-based “sports” products.
- Coffee and tea are acceptable in moderation. Same goes for seltzer water, but no diet sodas or artificial sweeteners. No alcohol.
- No nuts, seeds, or grains. End of discussion.
- No leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, legumes or beans. None.
- The Crunch Factor: This is one of the great keys to diet sustainability. You get used to not having the sugar and processed carbs like bread and pasta. But you will miss the crunch in your diet and it can drive you to smashing a bag of chips or a box of crackers (funny that most people see crackers as a healthy alternative to chips, when they really are not). Munching on celery or carrot sticks will also only get you so far. Try roasting peeled sweet potato logs in the oven until golden brown or smoking/baking chicken thighs (organic, free range if you can get it) with the skin on to make “meat chips.” You won’t be sorry if you do this once or twice per week.
- Two things to know about. You might get the “meat sweats.” This is known as the thermic effect of food or dietary induced thermogenesis. Getting your protein levels back up to ideal can rev up your metabolism and your body will actually produce more heat. This is normal and not a bad thing. The other is that when you reduce carbs, your body tends to reduce inflammation and fluid retention, and your urinary frequency will increase temporarily. Both these symptoms tend to fade in a few weeks..
- Employ a time-restricted feeding model of 16-8 hours regarding fasting period versus eating window. An example would be consuming all of your meals from 9am-5pm.
- Consume 2-3 meals per day depending on how active you are and whether or not you are needing to drop weight. If you are close to target weight and training steadily, go for 3 meals to make sure you get in enough calories. If you are trying to lose weight, stick with two feedings and make some of your days slightly hypocaloric. We are not trying to drop tons of weight this month…we are just focusing on resetting the metabolism.
- During the reset period, we aren’t overly concerned about hitting exact macros or calories…just eat real food (JERF). Getting your hormones balanced and metabolism regulated is our only goal. We can sort out the rest during maintenance.
- However, you’re going to need to track your dietary intake, and I recommend the free cronometer app. Shoot for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, and keep an eye on where your fats, carbs, and total calories end up. This information will be extremely useful in analyzing your progress, results, and in setting up a long term maintenance diet. If you don’t track it…you don’t know and you can’t measure and adjust it. Guessing with your health is less effective than being a bit more objective for now. Later on, your instincts will be tuned back up just like your metabolism and you won’t need to track.
- Simplicity…if it’s not on the list above…it’s out…so don’t ask. It’s just a month (for most people) and it’s just not that difficult. Let’s get past all this denial, bargaining, anger, and depression business and live in the world of acceptance.
That’s pretty much the plan for the reset month. Once you come out the other side now being healthier and more metabolically flexible, you can craft your own maintenance plan. But we’ll discuss the maintenance plan, as well as its application in a year-round manner, in the future. For now, let’s dive just a little deeper into the reset. I think it’s important to touch on the “why, when, and how” components of the PBD reset just a little more.
When we think of why we should do a reset, these are good points to keep in mind:
- Health is enhanced because we become more efficient at regulating blood glucose levels and consistently fueling our cellular processes.
- Performance is increased due to better body composition, improved recovery, and structural integrity (which a good diet builds) of our tissues.
- Longevity is given a boost from lower levels of systemic inflammation and relatively lower long term levels of insulin, both of which have been proven to correlate with long life.
- Immune function, now getting the attention it deserves, is really a byproduct of metabolic health. In the presence of ideal systemic and metabolic function, your innate and adaptive immunity works better and you produce less of a cytokine storm in the presence of infection. This point is largely overlooked by current media. Our greatest pandemic is worldwide poor metabolic health, not just the presence of pathogens which historically come and go. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be lining up to get your next vaccination or prescription medication…but any medical intervention works better when you are metabolically healthy. Somebody had to come out and say this. Guess it’s me. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Next up is the concept of when you should do a reset. The first answer is “If you need it…anytime is the right time.” It’s that critical. But technically speaking, in the seasonality model of the PBD, you should do your reset between November and March. This is because the winter months coincide ancestrally with low food and carb availability, and somewhat reduced activity patterns. That stated, my recommendation is to shoot for January or February as ideal months (or even both). December is a good time to do it physiologically, but holiday eating generally gets in the way.
Finally, if we give some attention to how a reset is best performed, here a few thoughts. You really don’t want to do the reset during your hardest training or competitive periods. It doesn’t fit as well there. You definitely should make it a collaborative and supportive experience by doing it with your family and friends (everybody wins here). Lastly, you may need to get creative with food preparation methods and meal planning to keep things interesting, but if you make it a fun learning experience, it’s easy.
So that’s how you do a metabolic reset using the Planet Based Diet. Try it. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.