Let’s Talk About Pain

Brilliant Friends,

I was talking with a buddy yesterday and we came to the subject of his tendonitis that was flaring up and preventing him from training at full capacity.

So I want to take a quick tangent off of powerlifting and talk about pain.

It’s not always from overwork. Yes we all have pushed it a little too hard on the reps or the sets, gotten a little too excited at the gym, and maybe added too much weight to the bar. Tendons, ligaments, muscles do get wear and tear every now and then, causing discomfort, immobility, and sometimes just unbearable pain.

I would know. I’ve had my fair share of lower back tweaks, shoulder impingements, and hamstring strains. These suck, and usually happen from not being prepared for training.

But there’s another kind of pain. The recurring joint pain, the aches, the knots, the stuff that seems to keep coming back and lasting for days or even weeks at a time. The ghosts of injuries past that don’t seem to leave you alone.

I had been suffering from lower back pain for years, ever since a tweak at the gym in high school. The thing was, the pain wasn’t consistent.

Sometimes it would disappear for months on end, and then come crashing down on me one morning. There were days where I had to pace my kitchen for half an hour after waking up to walk out the pain.

My right knee constantly bothered me as well. Sometimes simply walking around was a laborious task. I had banged it up pretty badly in rugby, and after a few months it was completely functional. However, on some days the pain just seared through my knee and prevented me from training.

I didn’t know why these pains were coming and going. I just chalked it up to good days and bad days, and hoped that continuing powerlifting would resolve them for good. When I started powerlifting there was marked improvement in my knee pain. But the bad days kept coming back.

Until I figured out that these pains are due, in large part, to food. That’s right. I think some pain is caused simply by the food we eat,  rather than some muscular or soft tissue damage. When I heard Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive, talking about this, I wanted to test it immediately.

It took me a while to figure out what to eat, but the number one suggestion Asprey gave was to avoid wheat.

I thought this was crazy at first. Half the calories I ate came from wheat. No joke. Toast with breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, PB&J for snacks, and pasta, pizza, or some other type of bread for dinner.

But I gave it a shot, because my pain was bad. I started eating rice more, and had to adjust meals to leave out pastas and bread. It was a little weird at first, but I got the hang of it. And what do you know, things changed quickly.

The first thing I noticed after getting wheat out of my diet for a few weeks was clear headedness. I could literally think better and was less emotional and moody. I used to have minor depression episodes, getting into dips every once in a while. This pretty much disappeared.

I stopped getting food comas. I no longer fell into unplanned naps, waking up with blind rage and frustration that terrified my family and girlfriend. I was calmer, and could be more patient. I was actually nicer.

The craziest part was the physical changes. My joint pain went away. I still got sore and achy after hard training sessions, but the recurring and random pains stopped.

What gives? Apparently, the gluten protein in wheat embeds into the gut wall and allows bacteria to seep out into the blood. Reaching the brain, this contamination causes poor cognitive function and eventually complications. It’s called “brain fog” in the citizen scientist world.

I don’t know how much of the mechanisms are true, but the result seems quite accurate to me.

Gluten also binds to the glucosamine in our joints. This embedding in the molecules that help to cushion joints causes inflammation throughout the body.

After extensive testing and observation, I noticed that for some reason eating wheat caused me pain in the areas that were previously injured. Because of this, I suspect there is a neurological aspect to all of it. Hence, the amplified pain.

The longer I go without wheat, the less believable it is to me that I have ever had joint pain. And then comes the night of pizza or dim sum with friends, and the symptoms return.

Avoiding wheat helped me reach and surpass the peak of my strength. If I had to deal with knee, lower back, and shoulder pain for my heaviest lifts, I would not have been able to focus enough to reach that strength.

Other foods that I find cause inflammation and exacerbate or create pain:

  • Dairy (except grass fed butter, which I eat every day and have no problem with. Butter doesn’t have as many of the milk solids that cause inflammation, plus since it’s grass fed it also lacks the poor quality fats of normal grain based butter.)
  • Fried foods and damaged fats. Fries, chicken, chips and crackers.
  • Cooked vegetable or seed oil, including olive oil. They get damaged so easily that any heat turns them into pain-inducing free radicals.

Try avoiding any one of these for a couple weeks, then splurge again for a day. Observe if there are any improvements, and if you feel any symptoms. Things like sleepiness, low cognitive ability, joint or muscle pain and weakness are symptoms we take for granted. Pay attention and see if they are present.

Be your own judge of what affects you. If it feels crappy to eat something, get rid of it. As much as you can, at least.

I’m curious about whether it’s just me that is experiencing all of the benefits of these habits.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Tell me if you’re having joint pains and if you try eliminating certain foods. I will definitely give you more tips along the way.

To powerful living,

Steve

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