An Introduction to Paleo for Crossfitters
Within the Crossfit community, there is a lot of talk of the paleo diet. What is the paleo diet? Here are some things it is not: an attempt to recreate a caveman diet, a weightloss diet (although weightloss may occur), or a fad. In fact, the paleo style of eating has been around for a while, although without that name. I usually explain it as eating the way our grandparents or great grandparents did, before highly processed frankenfoods became an accepted part of our diets. Back when farm fresh meats and vegetables with seasonal fruits made up most of people’s dietary habits.
Paleo in its most basic form is lots of non-starchy vegetables (think broccoli, lettuce/spinach, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.), a good amount of animal protein (fish, eggs, poultry, red meat, etc.), some fruits and starchy vegetables (berries, applies, melon, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, etc.) and small amounts of healthy fats like ghee (lactose free butter), olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts and seeds. Seasonings like coconut aminos (a soy free sauce) and herbs and spices are included, too! What is not included is grains (anything with flour in it, pasta, bread, etc.), legumes (beans, soy, etc.), dairy (cheese, milk, ice cream, etc.), refined sugars and artificial sweeteners (stevia, candy, many 0 calorie products), and processed foods (cookies, crackers, soda, etc.).
There are many variations in paleo including primal (paleo plus full fat no-sugar dairy), 80/20 paleo (80% paleo 20% non-paleo), and more. Many athletes also like to include protein powder and maybe some non-paleo complex carbs like whole oats or rice in addition to starchy squashes and sweet potatoes, as athletes may find they have higher protein and carbohydrate needs. Rather than a traditional diet that is meant to shed pounds quickly, paleo is a healthy lifestyle choice. Some people do lose weight on paleo, but the goal is typically to help your body optimally process foods and choose fuel that sets your body up for long term success. As athletes, we know the importance of our diets. One unhealthy meal can slow recovery or even throw off your workout the next day.
The goal of this article is not to cause shame or embarrassment around food and our dietary habits. No one is perfect, including myself. The goal is also not to sell anything. The goal is to provide information that may help you feel, look and perform your best. If you have been wanting to clean up your diet, consider giving paleo a try. There are lots of recipes online, and you can also do simple things like baked chicken or fish with steamed plain frozen veggies. Keep in mind, your body will probably have a two week adjustment period as it transitions to fueling off of protein and healthy fats rather than carbs. The main downside is that it does require some advance planning and cooking, as there aren’t many ready to eat paleo foods (although salad with rotisserie chicken and olive oil/vinegar for dressing is a quick paleo meal!)
I highly recommend giving it a try for 30 days. I have seen many benefits including eliminating PMS cramps, no more daily headaches or afternoon energy slumps, clearer skin, more energy, better moods with less mood swings, great numbers from the doctor, and some unanticipated weight loss. If you don’t see the results you wanted, you have only lost 30 days. If you do see the results you are looking for, you may have literally saved your own life! As always, with any questions or comments, please let me know!
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you want more comprehensive help and/or explanation about this and any other diet or lifestyle change you're considering, Coach Michael (CrossFit Nutrition) and Coach Bri (in her Masters in Nutrition program) can help. We can help you weigh the pros and cons for lots of different approaches and recommend the best thing for your individual situation.