4 Weeks on a P:E-ish Diet

By Rob Shaul

This is an update to a post I published 4-weeks ago, “4-Weeks on a Keto-Ish Diet.”

Background

Over the past 10 years I’ve been following consistently the nutritional recommendations we have published at mtntactical.com. These are simple and direct. These diet recommendations come from Gary Taubes’ book, Why We Get Fat. He’s a journalist, not a scientist, and in putting together this book and his other, Good Calories, Bad Calories, took a look at all the nutritional research and saw where it pointed.

Below are the current MTI Nutritional Guidelines

  • Eat only … Meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, cheese
  • Don’t eat … refined sugar, wheat, bread, grain, rice, potatoes
  • Drink only … coffee, tea, water, zero-calorie drinks (bubble water, diet soda, etc.) Don’t drink sugar and drastically restrict milk/cream. No alcohol
  • No caloric restriction. Eat to satiety. No need to count calories or ever be hungry – just eat “clean”.
  • Do this 6 days/week, then Cheat Like A Mother one day/week.

This is the diet I recommend for the majority of the athletes who contact me asking for advice, and literally hundreds, over the years, have reported losing fat eating “clean” as described above, 6 days/week.

However, as I moved into my 40s and now into my 50s (I’m 52) my metabolism has slowed and eating clean as described above 6 days/week has still left me with 5-10 pounds of fat regardless of my training at the time. This is one of the changes that comes with age.

Over the past several years I’d go through periods of skipping the “cheat day” and this would help, but I wouldn’t drop the extra weight I wanted.

Understand my interest in losing weight is not primarily appearance-driven. I’ve had foot fusion surgery, hip replacement surgery, and suffer from some fairly severe knee arthritis. Being “lighter” will significantly help with these issues.

My adult “natural” weight has been 160-165 pounds. I’m 5’7″ (on a tall day) … and have a mesomorph build – naturally muscular – which adds to my weight. I’d love to get down to 145-150 pounds as my “natural weight.”

 

4-Weeks on A Keto-Ish Diet

Taubes recently published a third nutrition book, The Case for Keto” and I followed Taubes’ recommended Keto diet for the last week of January and the first 3 weeks of February. Over that time I shed  5-10# pounds of fat and became significantly leaner.

To review – below are Taubes’ Keto Diet Guidelines:

  • Eat only … Meat (beef, pork, poultry, fish), veggies that grow above ground, berries in season, cheese, unsweetened cream and yogurt, eggs, avocados, tomatoes
  • You can eat this stuff in moderation – low sugar chocolates, nuts and nut butters (no peanuts), seeds and seed butters
  • Don’t eat … refined sugar, grains of any type (rice, wheat, oats, corn, etc.), no sauces that use corn syrup/sugar, no veggies that grow below ground, fruit except avocados, tomatoes and in-season berries, no beans or legumes, sweetened yogurts
  • Drink only … coffee, tea, water, zero-calorie drinks (bubble water, diet soda, etc.)
  • Don’t drink sugar/calories, including fruit/vegetable juices, milk
  • No caloric restriction. Eat to satiety.
  • Do this 7 days/week

There are two main differences between Taubes’ Keto diet recommendations and the current MTI nutritional guidelines:

  1. Taubes’ Keto diet recommendations significantly restricts all types of carbs – not only “bad” carbs like bread and sugar, but also vegetables and fruit. The goal is to try and to reduce your carb intake to 20-30 grams per day. Vegetables are okay – but only if they are grown above ground … no potatoes, carrots, etc. Also, no beans, including soy and peanuts.
  2. Increase in fat consumption. Based on my age/bodyweight, the recommendation is that I eat 165 grams of fat per day. Sources of fat are limited – avacodos, olive oil, butter, nut butters, etc.

Over the 4 weeks I followed Taubes’ Keto Diet recommendations, I didn’t strictly count my carb intake – but did watch it closely. To put his in perspective, a single apple has 25 grams of carbs, and prior to dropping in to Taubes’ Keto diet, I was regularly eating 3-4 apples/day, plus berries, oranges, etc. So… a major difference for me when I began following Taubes’ Keto Diet recommendations was an total elimination of fruit from my diet – only avocados, tomatoes and cucumbers remained (all are technically fruit).

Following his recommendations, I also increased my fat intake – but doubted I ever achieved the recommended 165 grams/fat/day for my bodyweight. I drank “bullet-proof” coffee (coffee with added butter and artificial sweetener), added butter to scrambled eggs, tried to eat 1-2 whole avacados/day, and lathered all my meat with olive-oil pesto – but still struggled to eat the fat he recommended.

Taubes’ Keto approach recommends eating to satiety and I did this. I don’t count calories or restrict food – I eat when I’m hungry and just eat what’s on the menu: meat, veggies, fat, nuts. I did drink no-calorie, diet soda to give me a break from coffee and water. For “sweets” I ate dark chocolate – which has very few carbs.

I experienced no negative side effects – training is as normal, no headaches, etc. One thing I have noticed is that I was much less hungry. My food consumption has decreased significantly, and I eat less at meal time. I’m ate my breakfast later in the morning – 10 or 11am, and then skipped lunch because I’m not hungry. I dropped down to 2-2.5 meals/day, and was never hungry.

I did drink alcohol 2-3x/week … but limit it to hard seltzers or hard liquor – which both have very few carbs. No beer or wine.

Below was an example of my diet following Taubes’ Keto recommendations:

AM Coffee

1 Cup “bullet proof” coffee – coffee, 1 tablespoon butter, zero-calorie sweetener
1 Cup black coffee (no added butter)

Breakfast @ 1000

    • 3x Scrambled Eggs mixed with 1.5 slices of cheddar cheese, topped with butter
    • 1/2 Avocado

Lunch/Snack @ 1400

    • 1x Chicken Thigh topped with olive-oil pesto sauce
    • Handful of almonds and square of dark chocolate

Dinner 

    • Salad topped with fish
    • Square of dark chocolate
    • Can of hard seltzer

Other … 1 can diet soda, 1 cup “bullet proof”, water/bubble water,

 

4-Weeks on A P:E-ish Diet

Following my posting of “4-Weeks on a Keto-Ish Diet” I received a note from a Beta subscriber, around my age, who recommended the P:E Diet.

Developed by Ted Naiman, M.D., “P:E” stands for the ratio between protein and energy in individual foods and meals. Naiman classifieds “energy” as both carbs and fat – he groups them together for simplicity.

Continuing with the simple approach, Naiman writes that if you eat foods/meals higher in protein, than energy, you’ll lose fat.

If you eat foods/meals with a one to one ration of protein to energy, you’ll maintain weight/fat.

If you eat foods/meals with more energy (carbs, fat, or both) than protein, you’ll increase fat.

In general, Naiman writes that it’s pretty much impossible to over eat protein. On the other side, it’s pretty much impossible not to overeat when the bulk of your diet is food/meals high in carbs and fat.

 

 

 

In general, here is the P:E Diet
  • High Protein
  • Avoidance of Carbs & Fat Together
  • Try to keep the Protein to Energy (fats + carbs) ratio of individual foods and/or means, equal to 1, or greater (more protein than carbs, fats or carbs + fats).
  • Avoid all refined carbohydrates and fats by eating whole food (no sugar, processed food, reduced fats like oils, etc.)

Eat mostly protein, he explains, and you are mostly protein (muscle) and bone. East mostly energy (carbs and fat), and you are mostly energy (fat).

The difference between the P:E diet and Taubes’ Keto Diet recommendations? More protein, less fat. Writes Naiman … “Going out of your way to eat fat instead could fail to increase protein percentage. Example: “butter-chugging” keto dieters.

Like Taubes, Naiman doesn’t encourage calorie counting and does encourage eating to satiety. You should never feel hungry on the P:E diet.

You can eat to satiety as long as protein and/or fiber (leafy veggies) is the dominant macronutrient. This pretty much means every meal should consist of protein and vegetables that grow above the ground like leafy greens, broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower, string beans, etc.

Below are Naiman’s P:E Diet Guidelines:

  • Eat only … Meat (beef, pork, poultry), fish, veggies that grow above ground, eggs, nonfat plain greek yogurt, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados
  • Don’t eat … refined sugar, grains of any type (rice, wheat, oats, corn, etc.), no sauces that use corn syrup/sugar, no veggies that grow below ground, fruit, most cheese, reduced fats (oils, butter- use only enough needed to cook with)
  • You can eat this stuff in moderation – low sugar chocolates, nuts and nut butters (no peanuts), seeds and seed butters, low fat cottage cheese
  • Drink only … coffee, tea, water, zero-calorie drinks (bubble water, diet soda, etc.)
  • Don’t drink sugar/calories, including fruit/vegetable juices, milk, cream
  • Eat meals and snacks with at least a P:E (carbs + fat) ratio of 1:1. To lose fat, eat more protein then energy.
  • No caloric restriction. Eat to satiety. You should never be hungry.
  • Naiman specifically recommends aiming to keep your daily carb intake below 100 grams/day.
  • Do this 7 days/week

What this has meant for me practically is I stopped “chugging butter” and forcing myself to eat fat, and made sure to begin every meal and snack begin with protein. So …  if I’m hungry between meals, for a snack I’ll eat another chicken thigh with salt and pepper.

 

The Result?
  • I’ve dropped another 5 pounds of fat (I’m down to 150 pounds at 5’7″) without ever being hungry. I’d like to get down to 145 pounds – which was my college freshman bodyweight the ideal weight for a mountain athlete at my height.
  • I eat less at meals, fewer meals and less food in general. Snacking is down.
  • Fitness performance has maintained – I’m still making my strength, endurance and work capacity progressions.
  • I’ve begun to experience some of the “mental clarity” benefits described by keto followers – my energy level is more even over the course of the day and the early afternoon “crash” isn’t there anymore.
  • My fat itake is significantly less – no more “bullet-proof” coffee, lots of olive oil pesto or 2 avocados/day.I like this better.
  • The diet is easier for me to understand and implement
  • I still have a square of dark chocolate to satisfy my post-meal sweet tooth, drink diet soda to break up the coffee and water, and drink hard liquor or a hard seltzer 2-3x week. I’m no saint …
  • Food was never a big part of my life (I’m not a foodie) – but it’s become significantly less important.
  • Naiman writes and I’ve experienced, that if you eat whole foods (nothing processed) you eat less in portion size and eat less often. You’re simply not as hungry.

Below was what I ate yesterday:

Early AM

1.5 Cups of black coffee and handful of almonds

Lunch @ 1130

    • 3 Chicken Thighs with Salt & Pepper
    • Raw String Beans
    • Few mouthfuls of leftover cauliflower

Snack @ 1500

    • 2 slices of turkey breast with salt and pepper

Dinner 

    • Salad topped with fish
    • Square of dark chocolate
    • Tequila, Lime Juice and bubublewatter

Other … 2 cans diet soda, water

 

Problems with the P:E Diet
  • Not much variety … Protein and above ground vegetables can only be dressed up so much. You pretty much eat the same thing everyday. Is this sustainable? If you’ve followed the current MTI diet guidelines for years like I have, it is. If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself you could never live without fruit, milk, bread, etc., my answer is, yes, actually you can.
  • Partner Problems – my move from Keto (where I was eating 2 avacados/day) to P:E – which is even more restrictive in terms of food choice – has caused issues. In the past, I was able to solve many of these issues with a weekly “cheat day” – but I’ve cut the cheat day now so I eat clean/strict all the time. What this means is I always have some grilled up chicken breasts or thighs, or leftover protein ready to go and for a couple meals, my family ate pizza and I ate chicken thighs and a quick salad. My partner is a foodie and thinks I’m an extremist ….

Will this lead to changes to the current MTI nutritional guidelines? Yes. I’m still working these through but I’ll likely soon update the MTI guidelines to the following.

For Athletes Under 40 Years Old – 6 Days/Week

  • Eat only Whole Foods – nothing processed
  • Start each meal and each snack with whole food protein (poultry, fish, beef, eggs)
  • Eat only vegetables that grow above the grown – leafy veggies, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • You can eat these in moderation – nuts, nut butters (no peanuts), seeds, seed butters, nonfat, unflavored greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese
  • Don’t Eat eat any processed sugar or corn syrup – candy, pastry, condiments with sugar, grains of any type (wheat, corn, oats, rice, bread), potatoes, sweet potatoes or any vegetable that grows underground, fruit other than tomatoes, cucumbers or avocados
  • Drink only coffee, water, tea, bubble water or no-calorie soft drinks
  • Alcohol – only hard liquor or low carb hard seltzer
  • Don’t drink milk or cream.
  • Limit processed/reduced fat (oils, butter)
  • At every meal, aim to eat a more protein than energy (veggies + fats) based on weight. Eat protein for snacks.
  • Eat to satiety – there is no caloric restriction. You should never be hungry.
  • 1 Day/Week – Cheat like a mother … eat/drink anything you want.

For Athletes Over 40 Years Old – 7 Days/Week

  • Same as above, but no cheat day. Sucks for you old-timer!

 

Conclusion

I recently published MTI’s Ideal Bodyweights for Mountain Athletes, Mountain Professionals and Tactical Athletes. Based on my own experience, without eating “clean” as described above, it will be difficult to achieve these recommended bodyweights unless you’re one of those freaks of nature who has a high metabolism and can eat anything you want. I have found most can’t outwork a shitty diet … and that fat loss is 95% diet related – so eating “clean” is necessary.

My own recent push to lose fat/weight has been driven by evolving fitness and health goals. As I’ve gotten older, pushing weight under the barbell has decreased in importance, while endurance has increased. This shift has been driven by the outside sports I enjoy (surfing, backcountry hunting, mountain biking, trail running, peak bagging, Nordic skiing,) but also by health issues including foot fusion and hip replacement surgery, and chronic knee arthritis.

Intuitively, my body is telling me that being 15-20 pounds lighter will simply be easier on the joints and help me move faster and longer (both short and long term) in the mountains. As well, stiff knees, a chronically sore foot and recovering hip means I simply don’t want to do heavy back squats anymore.But without these injuries, I’m confident I would be able to score “good” or “excellent” on MTI’s Relative Strength Assessment for Mountain Athletes and/or Mountain Professionals at 145-150 pounds bodyweight.

The major adjustment is food choice, and with that how I think about food. Again, I’ve never been much of a foodie, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t easily eat a pint of ice cream or bag of chips at one sitting. For many of us, unhealthy food was a way we rewarded ourselves for doing good (Job promotion – “I deserve ice cream”) or consoled ourselves when things didn’t go our way (bad day … “I’m going to drown myself in ice cream”). Sometimes this has made me feel a slave to bad food … and now I feel freedom from food, and a greater appreciation for whole food.

One major constant in the “slave to food” behavior for most is sweets. Two months ago, I rarely ate any processed sugar, but did eat a lot of fruit – especially apples – which are sweet and pack plenty of carbs and sugar. Dropping into the Keto-ish diet, and now the P:E-ish diet, I’ve cut fruit from my diet – and I wonder if this hasn’t been the main cause of my fat loss. My sweet tooth endures, but I’m able to satisfy it with diet soda or a square of dark chocolate.

Right now I think I’ve found the nutritional guidelines that work for me – will allow me to continue training hard and doing the outdoor sports/activities I enjoy, and keep me light and lean. There’s a cost in food variety/choice – and I do miss ice cream, and my restrictive diet causes some relationship issues – but being lean and light is worth this trade off esp. if my mountain performance improves (movement over ground), and it reduces chronic pain from foot surgery, hip surgery and knee arthritis.

 

Feedback? Please comment below.

 

 


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11 thoughts on “4 Weeks on a P:E-ish Diet

  1. Great information, and I love how you modify the standard scientific method to accommodate the immediate needs on the ground. While some precision is lost, it’s more than compensated for in the degree of usefulness.

    Why did you choose a 4-week cycle for these experiments? Was there a break period? I wonder if some of the positive results from the P:E diet weren’t residual from the prior month of keto.

    I’m also curious as to how the results would improve, maintain, or fade over a longer period…. 6 weeks, 2 months, 6 months, etc.

    With the damaging impact COVID has waged on gym access but the momentum it’s created for ordering food, I imagine a nutrition study could garner a much larger turnout of test subjects. With a large enough test group, you could even explore auxiliary variable like alcohol consumption (a genuine consideration within the communities to which you market).

  2. Curious how this type of diet effects actual health biomarkers. Obviously being at your ideal weight is healthier than not, but you could still be at risk for CV disease etc even at an ideal weight. A mini study to include accepted general health biomarkers would be ideal , although maybe impractical. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Mike –

    Long term deal for me – Taubes’ new book just came out and I used it as inspiration to lean up … then it evolved to the P:E idea. I was just under 150 pounds this AM, and am not sure 145# is possible – thought that is my goal.

    Lab Rat this? That’s an interesting concept. I’m working with some rock climb lab rats right now and have them following a similar diet – but they aren’t losing like they should be and of course there is no way I can enforce it. It might be really interesting to combine a fitness and diet component. I’ve got some other lab rats right now doing a Valor update, but they’ve already started. I’ll consider it for a mini-study.

  4. John –

    CV disease? Not sure I’m tracking. I have heard concerns about Keto with cholesterol from all the eggs, but I’m not doing Keto, plus I’m training hard – including a power-based endurance progression on a spin bike. I guess the question would be if a meat and veggies diet would put me more at risk then a meat and veggies and fruit diet + a weekly cheat day like I was doing previously.

  5. Coach,
    That is funny that you tried this based on an email. I drafted such an email to you after reading your post on the keto experience but then got busy with other things and never sent it. I started doing keto 5 years ago and have progressively increased my protein intake and now follow something very similar to the P:E diet. I’m happy that you have had a good experience with higher protein, it’s been a huge game-changer for me as well. Cheers!

  6. Have you experimented with any of the above combined with fasting? IF seems to be all the rage these days, and I’d be interested to see how it would affect both gym performance and fat loss. I think it would be detrimental, but some people swear by it.

  7. Great article. We are carbohydrate addicts in this society. Once we view it like that, we can begin the journey to ending chronic disease. Free yourself from the chains that bind you!

  8. Eric – The P:E Diet author naturally fasts – doesn’t eat after 6pm, then eats at 11 am or something. I’ve done this naturally a couple days, but in general, I’ve found that no diet/nutritional guidelines are sustainable if you’re hungry, so I haven’t forced myself.

  9. I enjoyed this article and the last. I actually finished Taubes’ new book right before you published your keto results. I’ve been on keto for a couple of years now (read Why We Get Fat and followed your guidelines for 4 years before that) and all my bio markers are fine.

    I wonder if your continued weight loss was specifically due to limiting you sugar and fruit intake. Taubes published a book about sugar specifically before his keto book (read that a few months back).

    Like you, I find getting enough fat in the diet is a challenge. I recorded everything for a while to get the hang of it, and now I just log in my Fitbit app (easy too when you can scan barcodes). I also recently got keto strips to play around with protein levels. I’ve found that I can stay in ketosis with no hunger and even drink a couple glasses of red wine and be ok. I also do IF. I don’t struggle with hunger as I drink plenty of water and while in ketosis my body continues to be fueled. I also find I have plenty of energy and my strength number are still plenty high (maybe too high).

  10. Interesting how nutrition has become such a complex concept. Are the new nutritional guidelines molded heavily after what you enjoy eating or drinking Rob? “Alcohol – only hard liquor or low carb hard seltzer”. All ingestible alcohol has the same caloric value. The difference is only in what types of sugar water you’re adding to the mix. What makes hard liquor or seltzer unique amongst other libations? The underlying theme across all “nutritional guidelines” is discipline. One either finds the discipline to make good food choices or does not. One either finds the discipline to exercise daily or does not. Unfortunately too many people will choose the path of least resistance and most convenience. This often amounts to fast foods of high caloric density. It’s just as feasible to choose a can of tuna, apple and bottle of water versus spending the same $3 on the cheese burger with small fries and soda combo. I do not understand the harsh avoidance of fresh fruits. Have you honestly bore witness to obesity from eating fresh fruits? If anything, regular alcohol consumption is the culprit for extra fat gain due to poor nutritional value and know ill effects on hormonal balance/metabolism. Additionally, only above ground vegetables? Again, the key becomes discipline. The discipline to eat correct portion sizes and enjoy all varieties of food responsibly. If you consume too much energy one day, perhaps 3 cookies instead of 1 after lunch, then common sense tells me to expend more energy that day. Seems pretty obvious. People are hooked on finding the perfect plan for strength, endurance, work capacity etc., and become paralyzed with an overabundance of choices/opinions/experts. A good basic plan executed now trumps the “perfect” plan executed next week. Default aggressive, Keep it Simple. Do work, lift heavy for you, eat less to loose weight, move your body all day, drink water.

  11. Question for Rob…. how do you eat on say a backcountry hunt? Archery season is fast approaching and I’m concerned a P:E diet won’t be able to sustain me through long days of hiking.

    Thank you

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