Piano, Health, and Diet, the Paleo Way

Want to be the best pianist you can? Part of this is being strong, mentally and physically.

Piano is a physical instrument and many of the great pianists in history and today say the same thing: great pianists need to be in great shape. The easiest way to start increasing our quality of health and physical/mental strength is by making sure we eat foods that are right for our bodies. I've been following the Paleo diet for the last five years and the last five years have been the most productive years of my life.

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Pianists have a very physical job. We are hitting things with our fingers and hands for hours on end. Without the strength to back this up we'll get health issues such as carpal tunnel, shoulder and arm overuse issues, neck pain, back pain, to name a few.

If you want to do something right away that can help a lot of this, get your diet right. There are quite a few resources to help with this, such as Mark Sisson's "The Primal Blueprint" and "The Paleo Solution" by Robb Wolf.

Pain and other physical problems in pianists is common and I've seen them in students and professionals for years.

You may say that carpal tunnel is often caused by bad technique, and you'd be right, but what causes bad technique?

A lot of the time poor piano technique results from compensating for some weakness in our bodies. Carpal tunnel can come from compensating for weakness in the shoulders or upper arms for example. Mix that in with inflammation and various autoimmune issues and you have a perfect pain storm.

My personal story involved a lot of pain related to inflammation in the nerves in my back, a genetic trait inherited from some long lost ancestor that I'm guessing grew up and fought on the shores of some misty isle near the Scotland Highlands. This ancestor was undoubtedly uber cool and carried a huge nicked up sword through swamps as he and his clan would fight over the best Scotch producing peat moss filtered water.

What the heck is The Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is a very simple idea: eat what your body wants you to eat in the big picture of human nutrition.

It's called the PALEO diet because it's based on human nutrition before the agricultural revolution which happened roughly 10,000 years ago for the majority of humankind.

The agricultural revolution changed a diet that most humans had been living on for a million years, a diet consisting of meat, vegetables, fruits, fish, and food they could get from foraging and hunting, into a diet based on grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and others. Bone Density Drop in Modern Humans Linked to Less Physical Activity

An interesting side note is that anthropologists who study the time around the agricultural revolution can look at human bones and tell you if they came before or after the agricultural revolution. It's a fact that in general, before the agricultural revolution, humans were much taller, bigger boned, had longer lifespans, less tooth decay, and lived much healthier lives (notwithstanding saber tooth tiger attacks and similar dangers of the times.)

What's the problem with the modern diet?

In general, the modern diet is based on grains and sugar. Bread, breakfast cereal, bagels, sandwiches, pizza (hmmm, pizza....), rolls, cookies, deserts, battered deep fried appetizers, the list is endless.

There are three main things that make the modern diet work against health and vitality.

  • too much of the wrong kind of fat (the omega 6 / omega 3 balance is way off)
  • too much molecular mimicry (anti nutrients that mimic real nutrients)
  • too much sugar

1. Fat: Omega 6 VS Omega 3 - the inflammation war

Simply put, we need both kinds of fat to survive. Omega 6 is an inflammatory and Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory. The problem is that the ratio we need is roughly 1:2, 1 part Omega 3 fats to 2 parts Omega 6 fats, but instead in general we're getting more of a 1:40 ratio, the Omega 6's are way out of the range.

Probably the biggest contributor to Omega 6 fat intake is how much bread and other grains our diets consist of. Grains are heavy in Omega 6's. The only way to fight it is to eat less Omega 6 rich foods and more Omega 3 rich foods.

Inflammation is now widely considered to be the number 1 cause of disease.


What you eat determines how healthy you are.

2. Anti-Nutrients, Molecular Mimicry, Gut Health

Another issue is our gut lining and other blood-brain barriers (lungs and brain.)

The great Hypocrites once wrote, "All health begins in the gut." He's right, modern science backs him up. If your gut is not healthy, nothing else about you can be healthy either.

Simply put, eating grains damages your gut lining and allows anti-nutrients into your body.

Anti-nutrients are molecules that appear at first glance to be healthy nutrition, so your body let's them in and in the process damages receptors in your gut lining. That's just the beginning. Once your body eventually figures out that these aren't real nutrients and releases white blood cells to go kill them of, they not only kill off the anti-nutrients, but they destroy any healthy tissue connected to them.

This is where most auto-immune diseases start. Rheumatoid arthritis, Chron's, Fibro, hair loss from alopecia, and others are all because your body is attacking itself on a micro level, and it's doing that because of dietary choices.

The only way to get around this is by not eating things that damage our gut lining, and that really starts with grains. If you want to get deeper, this list also includes non-green beans/legumes, un-fermented soy products, and a few others. All of this is explained in more details in various paleo/primal books such as the ones from Primal Blueprint and "The Paleo Solution" by Robb Wolf.

3. The Sugar Epidemic: Sugar is the Gateway Drug

We're not just talking about eating a candy bar or something off the dessert menu. We're talking about things that turn into sugar after you eat them.

The entire point of eating is to give your body the ingredients it needs to create ATP, the most basic of cellular energy that keeps you alive.

You might be surprised to learn that every carbohydrate you eat eventually turns into sugar. Bread, potatoes, cookies, broccoli, sandwiches, pretty much everything.

The problem is all the empty carbs that we eat. A hunk of broccoli is full of carbs, but it's also full of fiber and massive amounts of nutrients that your body craves. A piece of bread on the other hand is a nutritional wasteland, no nutritional value to speak of and the only thing it does in your body is turn into sugar.

Why is sugar killing you? For one, it causes insulin resistance to go way, way up. That means your body is not producing the insulin needed to get the job done, and the job is the process that turns carbs into sugar and sugar into ATP. When this happens, inflammation goes out of control and you begin dying, slowly losing your vitality to diseases brought on by nothing more than dietary choices. One of the side effects is also pancreatic death and an increase in bad fat storage.

How does the Paleo diet fix all of this?

By following the Paleo diet your body switches gears. After a break-in period of about a month, your body begins to get energy from fat instead of sugar.

Energy from fat is better because it only takes a handful of steps to turn fat into usable energy and it is long lasting. You don't get cravings when you're a fat burner. Energy from carbs and sugar, however, takes many more chemical steps before ATP is created and the energy you get doesn't last very long (eat a bagel, you will crave another bagel in a half hour.) In fact, some carbs can take hundreds of chemical processes before ATP is created.

Why do you think you feel tired after a traditional western meal? Meat, bread, potatoes, salad, dessert, and that sort of thing? Sure, your body is digesting, but you feel tired because of WHAT your body is digesting. All those carbs make your body go into overdrive trying to turn them into ATP and the sugar/craving viscous circle is in overdrive.

On the other side of the coin, let's say you go camping and all you eat for breakfast is a handful of bacon or sausages, or maybe you had a plate of scrambled eggs and nothing else. Fat and protein. Do you remember how you felt? I bet you felt energetic, clear headed, ready to take on the day.

This energetic feeling was not a result of camping and having a good time, it was because you ate fat and protein and your body didn't have to use up tons of energy for digestion. You gave your body what it wanted and it rewarded you with energy and vitality.

This is what the paleo diet does, it gives you energy and vitality in a way that let's you be more productive in whatever it is you do.

I know this because this is my personal story.

If you do this, your physical and mental energy skyrockets. I mean, it goes up to a point that is ridiculous. In the last five years since I started on my Paleo diet journey, I have been more productive than possibly the rest of my life put together.

Here are just a few things that have happened to me since I went paleo:

  • my music output has dramatically increased
  • at the age of 48 I'm as strong as I've been in my entire life
  • my web app output went way up
  • I don't need as much sleep
  • I got smarter. Seriously, online IQ tests show a substantial increase in my scores
  • my brain is so much calmer, I'm able to see beyond an emotional reaction before it happens
  • the big picture is much more clear, it's easier to see the start, middle, and end of everything I do

It's like a huge fog has been lifted from my reality and I see the world so much more clear than I ever did, am more capable than I ever was... the benefits of going Paleo are almost beyond description for me.

How to start with the paleo diet?

There are a lot of resources out there these days. Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, Mark Sisson, Jimmy Moore, the list is endless.

Mark Sisson's "Primal Blueprint"

Robb Wolf: "The Paleo Solution"

Loren Cordain started it all and has two new books.

And Jimmy Moore who has some excellent material.

I wouldn't even mention this if I didn't think you are more interested in thriving than just surviving. My life is beyond different in so many positive ways since I went on the Paleo diet that I hope some of you give it a chance too. 30 days is all it takes and by that time you'll wonder why it took you so long to get into it.

If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

by Scot Ranney on 05/08/2015, 11:42
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