I’ve experimented with diet in the past, notably here where I tried and failed miserably at going vegetarian for a month.
Paleo Diet (also known as Paleolithic or Primal) is a diet that is really popular among Crossfit athletes and I happen to be a member of a Crossfit gym where I live, so I’ve been getting pretty heavy exposure to it for about a year. I decided to give Paleo a serious look and I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing it for about 2 months now at a decent level and with interesting results.
Paleo is basically the following:
- Emphasizes lean meats (fish, fowl, lean red meat, pork, etc)
- Removes bread, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, and anything with gluten in it
- Most carbs come from fruits and vegetables, but carbs are de-emphasized.
- Pretty much a clean diet, so cuts out anything that is chemical heavy and high fructose corn syrup. Thus, no soda, candy, and generally no mass produced condiments.
There are other factors, but that’s basically it. The theory is that this diet converts your body into an efficient fat burner whereas before it was mostly a carb burning system. It also has a shitload of health benefits, like reducing the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and premature aging. Hammer wrote a good overview of Paleo in a guest post for us.
BTW, I’m not in the least widely read about Paleo, so if you’re really interested you should do your own research. Most of my information is coming from word of mouth, Mark Sisson’s blog, and the book The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.
Why I Got Into It Again
There are two reasons actually. The first is pure vanity. I was on vacation at the beach a couple of months ago and someone took a picture of me with my shirt off. I definitely had a small gut and love handles going, gained from all the drinking and overeating on the vacation. When I got home I weighed myself and I was 5 pounds heavier than before I left, which was also the most I ever weighed. I take a lot of pride in my fitness so this really pissed me off.
The second is I love to train for competitions and I’m always interested in how diet affects performance, and specifically if I could find a diet that would enhance my training. I heard from all the Crossfitters that Paleo can have a HUGE affect on performance, like all of your maxes go through the roof and you end up looking like Leonidas from 300. That definitely piqued my interest.
So after my vacation I worked out like a mad man and resolved to try the Paleo diet for at least two weeks. It’s been two months and I’m still doing it.
Okay, results. At the end of week 1 of the diet, I went from 165 lbs (highest ever) to 155 lbs (lowest in years). That’s right, I lost 10 pounds in one week. I’m a pretty lean guy so I usually sit around 160 lbs. Now I’m permanently set between 155 -158 depending on time of day, hydration factors, etc, and this feels like my ideal weight. I think if I really trained hardcore, I would probably go down to 153ish for a short term and still have exceptional performance.
I was at a race over the weekend and a friend of mine remarked that I looked like I had packed on 5 pounds of muscle since the last time she saw me. My body weight was actually lower than the last time she saw me, so I’ve exchanged fat for real muscle and I generally look ripped.
For actual performance, I’ve established new maxes on deadlift (255#) and leg press (12 plates total). I was especially encouraged by the leg press, as I’ve only ever done 8 plates before and I did a set of 5 reps at the new level and no problems. I think I could have gone above that, perhaps 14 plates.
I feel pretty good in workouts and I’m really crushing it at Crossfit. Whereas when I first started doing Crossfit every workout killed me, now I’m able to handle any given workout and feel like it’s at a “medium” difficulty level. I also go to a personal trainer two days per week and these workouts are usually brutal. They’re still brutal, but I’ve noticed I don’t get sore as much afterwards and I’m able to keep up with the bigger guys at the gym.
Lastly, I did an adventure race a couple of weeks ago that involved 3 hours of mountain biking, running, and canoeing. I never got tired even though it was 90+ degrees out and the biking was leg destroying. I distinctly remember biking through a long stretch of sugar sand in a pack of other dudes and one of the dudes remarked how his quads were totally on fire. My thought: I feel fine, I could do this all day. I couldn’t have been happier with my performance. After the race I knew something was up.
Issues and Thoughts
At first I found Paleo really difficult because I was cutting out *everything* that I normally ate. Like bread, pasta, and rice. I love cheese and I dropped it entirely and still miss it bad. I also had to commit to preparing almost every single meal because most food when you eat out is not paleo friendly. As I’m sure you know if you work a 9-6, when you eat lunches your options are limited to what’s around you. The one factor that enabled me to embrace the diet was that I started working from home 4-5 days per week. What that meant was it was a cinch to cook breakfast and lunches because I was no longer on the go or locked into eating what was close by. I simply had to reach into the fridge and make something. Convenience was no longer an issue.
The other issue is the expense. My grocery bill is easily 20% higher than it was before, although I don’t eat out lunches so I think I’m breaking even. I’m buying things like free range eggs, wild salmon, and gluten-free open range chicken. Cheap carb foods like pasta and bread has disappeared entirely.
Eating out is still risky, although manageable. To be perfectly transparent, I eat paleo meals maybe 70% of the week, whereas I have a handful of meals that are standard American fare. I drink beer and eat pizza on gamedays and obviously those aren’t paleo. Even at a 70% level I’m getting good results. I would like to try a strict paleo diet in the future to see how it affects performance, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready for it yet. I can’t give up things like Sushi and Dogfish Head beer.
Anyone have experience with paleo? Share results in comments. I’m sold on it completely and can’t imagine going back to a standard American diet. I feel great, look great, and have good results in training and competition.