I started to make changes to my diet about 1 year ago upon observing Kevin (my brother). He got on a diet plan after joining the X Gym, where he rapidly lost body fat and increased muscle (His rapid results were of course in large part due to an intense physical training routine as well). So I started by eating only natural/whole foods and a generally low glycemic diet (Also commonly referred to as the diabetic diet). This basically consisted of cutting out of my diet all refined carbs (most cereals and breads, refined sugar), artificial sweeteners (Aspartame, Ascesulfame-K…), and other artificial and chemicals and food additives (High fructose corn syrup, msg…). This led to the avoidance of candy, granola bars, most bread, cereals, and most salad dressings, as they are generally loaded with high fructose corn syrup, msg, added sugar… Thus olive oil and balsamic vinegar became my go to when eating salad and I ate lots of it. From here my diet slowly evolved, I began researching more, adjusting my macronutrient (Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat) ratios, and eliminating certain foods that my research deemed non-optimal. It seemed every step of the way there was improvement in my athletic recovery and overall fitness. As I progressed I found myself eating very close to what is now commonly known as the Paleo Diet. Simply put, this is a diet that is supposed to imitate the diet of our ancestors from the Paleolithic period. Why the Paleolithic Period? Because this is the period of human evolution where the majority of our genetic adaptation took place, hence we then should be genetically optimized to consume the foods that were eaten during that period. These foods include Vegetables, Fruit, Nuts, Seeds, seafood, and wild meats. I know what you are thinking, probably as I did, “This diet is limiting, No Soy! No Beans! No Lentils! And where are all the whole grains?” Unfortunately these foods all need to be processed in some way in order to be eaten, and there is little evidence that any of the foods were in our Paleolithic ancestors’ diet. Of course there are exceptions, where people did consume grains or milk, but it is still not enough to give any of the aforementioned foods the Paleo Diet stamp of approval. The first time I heard about the Paleo Diet I didn’t even consider it a viable option; it was just far too limiting; but over time I found it pretty easy to follow, and with the surprising performance results and improvements in recovery, there was some added motivation to stick with the new regimen.
I was 25 years old, 5’7” tall, and 156 pounds, when starting the diet modifications. I was physically fit as a cyclist, mountain climber, and soccer player. I maintained for all of my college and post college years (up until 1 year ago) a weight within about 5 pounds of that 156 pound mark, with few exceptions; I did at one point get down to 147 pounds (after climbing with the flu, burning almost 10,000 calories in a weekend, and throwing up what little food I ate, followed by having my wisdom teeth removed and being on a liquid diet for the next 4 days) and at one point weighed in at 162 pounds (as a result of my poorest eating habits I had since high school and putting on bulky muscle. I was still very fit, as this was my weight during my first time climbing
Now some of these results can be attributed more too hard work and specific training, and some of the results attributed to diet, but if there is one thing I have learned it’s that YOU NEED BOTH PROPER DIET AND TRAINING TO MAXIMIZE HEALTH AND PHYSICAL POTENTIAL.
So let’s delve back in to my current diet to see what kind of foods are on the menu that led to the aforementioned results. As I stated previously the diet consists of Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts, Seeds, Meat, and Seafood. It does not include Grains or Legumes. Dairy is more of a gray area, but is still avoided especially in a pasteurized or processed form (Almost all of the milk/dairy products available at the grocery store fall into this category). There is some question as to whether Grass Fed, Organic, Raw, and Full Fat dairy products are acceptable, but as a rule the Paleo Diet still does not put it on the menu. So now I will go through the acceptable food groups one by one.
Fruits – Fruits are to be generally low glycemic. If you are not sure which fruits fall into this category, Google has the answers. Off the top of my head I can tell you that apples, pears, oranges, and grapefruit are all fair game. Fruits like bananas, pineapple, and melons have higher glycemic index and should be limited somewhat.
Vegetables – Green Vegetables are all fair game. So eat your kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, chard, mustard greens, and celery. Onions, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and most other vegetables are also acceptable; however there are a couple exceptions, these include potatoes, sweet potatoes and other starchy tubers. These tend to be high carb, high glycemic, and require some processing/cooking to eat, therefore they are not paleo. If you miss mashed potatoes then I recommend trying mashed cauliflower, I actually like it better anyway. Also as a side note, potatoes are a preferred food for athletes on the paleo diet who need a source of carbohydrate to fuel endurance exercise, so for you athletes, potatoes may still be on the menu.
Nuts – Nuts are good, Walnuts and Almonds are probably the most healthful, but pecans, macadamia nuts, and other nuts are still fair game. Cashews (which are actually not a nut, but a seed from fruit) are fair game as well. Peanuts are a legume and are not acceptable. That goes for peanut oil or any other product containing peanuts. Soy is also not acceptable (Soy has been marketed as healthy, but all my research indicates that it is a sorry substitute for more optimal foods and in some cases can be detrimental to overall health, but I will get into this in another post).
Seeds – Most seeds are acceptable, and I cannot think of many exceptions. I particularly like hemp, chia, sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds (Although there has been some recent research on flax that unfortunately has downgraded it in the healthy food community, I still eat it though)
Seafood – Salmon, Tuna, Shrimp, Muscles, Clams, Lobster, Swordfish, Trout, Herring, Sardines… Eat it, lots of it, but note the following: Some fish contain high amounts of heavy metals, so limit them. Fatty fish, like salmon should be only eaten if wild, farm-raised fish will screw up the fats, and I don’t recommend eating them. If you want to save money by buying farmed seafood stick to shrimp and lean fish only.
Meat – Lean meat is fair game, when eating beef I highly recommend that it is 100% grass fed. Grain fed, and grain finished beef has a fat profile that is harmful to your health, 100% grass fed beef has a fat profile that is very good for your health. All wild meat is fair game, and organ meats are encouraged. Eggs are also fair game, but try to get omega-3 varieties that are organic and free range, also buying from local farms is generally best, and you can go see the operation yourself to ensure quality.
I will stop now, as this is just an introduction into the diet, but before I finish, I will give you an idea of what a normal day looks like for me. Below is a copy of my fitday (www.fitday.com) that illustrates what an average day looks like for me. Note that this day would be supplemented with additional calorie intake and carbohydrates if I worked out more than 90 minutes.