Biochemical Individuality

TBT to 2008 on the Milford Track in New Zealand

TBT to 2008 on the Milford Track in New Zealand

A. Snatch Balance + 2 OH Squats


B. 15 OH Squats (115/75)

100 Double Unders

25 Front Squats (115/75)

400m Run

35 Back Squats (115/75)

30 Side Jumps over Bar

This is the first part of a four-part nutrition write up. The goal of this series is to delve into what foods we require as humans beings to thrive. Part 1 will discuss the concept of biochemical individuality, a termed coined by Dr. Roger Williams in his book of the same name. This first part will show that despite our genetic similarities, human beings are enormously different in both the way we are internally built and the different foods that we require. Part 2 will review the work of Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled to 15 different regions in the 1930's, in search of why isolated peoples on a native diet are both healthy and cavity-free. Part 3 will consist of Price's conclusions and findings in his life's work of both field study and research, including why modern foods have contributed to mental disease, sterility and premature death. Part 4 will bring us back to current questions and issues on the paleo diet, Barry Sears' zone philosophy, and what's best for us CrossFitter's to eat and thrive on.

Individual Nutritional Needs Part 1: Biochemical Individuality 

I quickly realized the first morning at the Irish breakfast table was the moment of truth. What would I be eating for the next 8 days? The last breakfast in Ireland and the ones in between were nearly identical to the first: sausage, ham, eggs, bread, pudding and potatoes. Lots of potatoes. From my observations, the Irish have three basic food categories: bread/potatoes, meat, and beer. No wonder everyone in that country is in such a cheerful mood all the time!

There is no “one-size fits all” diet. Any expert who claims a diet they have designed or tout is meant for everyone, or even a majority of humans is way off point. Wait a minute!, so Paleo is not the end all be all of how to eat? The answer is no, but I’ll get to that question later in Part 4.  There are 2 reasons why this is true: biochemical individuality and cultural differences.

Biochemical Individuality

This is just a fancy way of saying that you are uniquely different from any human in the world. In fact, it is thought that as different as we may look from the standpoint of physical appearances, humans are vastly more different internally. Roger Williams wrote a book appropriately called Biochemical Individuality and showed that organ size, shape, location, etc can be remarkably different from person to person. He also determined that because our anatomy can be so varied, so too is our dietary requirements. A few examples:

-the heart pumps a certain amount of blood per beat, called stroke volume. The measured range of blood pumped per minute has been measured between 3.16 liters and 10.81 liters at rest in normal individuals

-some stomachs can hold 6 to 8 times as much food as others in normal individuals (this excludes hot dog eating champs like Kobayashi)

-In the lungs a 4-fold difference can be found in how much air is ventilated per minute. The range for normal individuals varied from 3.5 to 14.4 liters per minute. This suggests major difference in lung size, number of alveoli, and breath rates.

The many variations of the stomach

The many variations of the stomach

These examples were presented to show the fact that our internal anatomy are both structurally and functionally different. Since we know that is true, it can be inferred that dietary intake will vary as well. Some individuals need more calcium than others, some require a great amount of protein while others do not. The intestines of some African tribesman are sometimes twice as long as their European counterparts. Their diet high in grains requires a longer tube to adequately digest the carbohydrates. They can handle grains whereas an individual with a much shorter intestinal tract may not. It’s important to keep in mind that our bodies vary so much from one person to the next and that dietary intake follows suit. Here are some examples:

-some individuals can make enough Riboflavin via the bacteria in the intestines, while some require it in their diets to get an adequate amount

-Vitamin D is most absorbable through the skin from sun exposure. Some individuals require large amounts of D through the diet, while others can get plenty through sun exposure

-Vitamin C can be explained through the scurvy examples aboard long sea journeys. Under the exact same diet and conditions, some crew man would get sick with scurvy which would result in death, while others seemed to be immune to the disease. This would indicate some mechanism exists in the body of some individuals to store or make vitamin C while others do not

So, when a friend says, "Hey you need to try this diet, it worked for me", tread with caution. You are unique and your body requires a unique blend of nutrients, vitamins, fats, amino acids, sleep and exercise.

The practical information I would take away from BI is to experiment with your diet. Does fruit make you feel energized or lethargic? When eating heavy fat or meat meals, do you feel full and weighed down? Eat particular foods all by themselves, note how you feel in a food journal and begin constructing your very own unique diet. Remember, chemicalized processed and sugary foods will never make you feel good and should be avoided. Another route you can take is to get a blood analysis to find out what nutrients your are deficient in. Ask your doctor about this test and it will give you a starting point on what vitamins you need to seek out in your diet.

Using the concept of BI can greatly enhance your dietary choices, by becoming in-tune with your individual needs and thriving on foods that are meant for you!


Williams, Roger J. Biochemical Individuality. Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CN 1998.