In Part 1 of this series, I laid out some foundations for choosing how to eat and how to approach your quest for better health and performance through diet. In Part 2 here, I’ll build on that foundation with specific steps and strategies so you can implement the theory from the previous article. In the final installment, Part 3, I’ll discuss weighing, measuring and fine-tuning and wrap things up.
What we’re heading toward is a weighed, measured and highly individualized Paleo diet comprised of high quality foods. This is, in my opinion, the best approach for the majority of CrossFit athletes who really want to up their nutritional game.
Step 1 – High Quality, Organic and Paleo Foods
This should be everyone’s staring point. I was thrilled at my last Paleo workshop (CrossFit Relentless in West Hartford, CT) that a large number of people there had already gotten into local, pastured meats from a few of the local farms here in the state. It only makes sense. If you’re looking for high athletic performance, you should be putting the absolute highest quality food into your body that you can get your hands on. If you’re into audio books, one of the very best on the topic of food quality is Paul Chek’s “You Are What You Eat.”
In addition to food quality, the Paleo template of excluding grains and dairy is another important and indispensable foundational step. Yes, this probably includes your whey-based recovery shake.
I’m not saying you need to be 100% strict Paleo forever – though I’m not saying you don’t – but you’ll never know how good you can feel or how certain foods are affecting you until you exclude them for a few months or longer and then slowly reintroduce them one at a time. It’s also very possible and probable that some Paleo foods won’t work well for you either. It’s all very individual.
Thankfully, most CrossFit boxes have regular “Paleo Challenges” now, so it’s common that CrossFitters have done at least short periods without grains or dairy.
Figure 2, “Why Paleo” below, is a foundational illustration from my book that graphically explains the big picture as it relates to food and why Paleo just plain makes sense.
If you look at Figure 2 in a general way, you’ll see that there was a long period where very little to nothing changed for humans diet-wise and lifestyle-wise in general, followed by periods where change increases significantly.
Moving from hunting and gathering to relying on agriculture, not to mention consuming grans and dairy regularly, would have been extreme. Yet, it would have been gradual with enough time for the body to adapt. Closer to the present, you can see that changes are more disruptive and occur more rapidly. Closer to the present, you can see that the changes are more disruptive and occur more rapidly.
From my book, here’s how I define foods in Paleo terms. Instead of two categories – “Paleo” and “Not Paleo” – I use five categories. It’s actually easier and more sensible like this. I promise.
Notice that I don’t completely exclude some non-Paleo foods. I think it makes more sense to simply categorize them differently so their use or non-use becomes situation dependent and has a context…
Taking a Different Approach
My approach to Paleo involves separating foods into five categories:
1) Foundational Paleo Diet Foods (Foods on Which to Base Your Diet)
These are meats from animals fed their appropriate diet (cows fed grass, for example), wild-caught fish, and vegetables and fruits (preferably organic).
2) Foods of Early Agriculture (Consider Adding if Well Tolerated)
Eggs from well-raised chickens and raw dairy from well-raised cows and/or goats. Things like fresh-ground organic coffee are also included in this category.
3) Paleo Foods to Use Sparingly
These are starchy Paleo foods like yams and sweet potatoes best left to post-workout, and concentrated Paleo foods like coconut milk, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, nut and seed milks and raw honey.
Foods in this category are things like coconut oils and fish oils that can be used to round out the fat content in the diet, protein powders (if necessary, well tolerated and of high quality), fiber supplements and certain nutrient supplements.
5) Modern Foods (Avoid Them)
This category holds almost everything else, including processed foods, soy products, beans and legumes, roasted nuts, sugar and high fructose corn syrup products. Alcohol is also in this category.
Paleo is the starting point and the Paleo or Ancestral template is absolutely proven both empirically and with more and more science coming out daily. Grains and dairy are very inflammatory foods and a large number of individuals are sensitive to them. I rarely talk to someone who doesn’t feel a lot better after dropping all grains and dairy from their diet for a month or two.
Figure 3 is a graphical representation of what a good Paleo-based diet is going to look like:
The Bottom Line on Paleo and Food Quality…
I think Coach Glassman said it best way back in 2002 in his landmark manifesto “What is Fitness?” In the section entitled “World Class Fitness in Less Than 100 Words” Glassman says about diet:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”
– Greg Glassman
This is, more or less, a Paleo prescription. It’s simple, elegant and you won’t be far off with this as a starting point.
Take everything I’ve said so far in this article series and experiment with it. Play with it, track your results and enjoy the infinite and finer nuances of eating for health and performance. Read everything you can – even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. If you get off track, overwhelmed or confused, return to the above quote from Coach Glassman to get back to center and start again.
As my very last comment on the topic of the importance of food quality and, in my opinion and experience a predominantly Paleo diet, I’ll pull out one more piece from “What is Fitness?” Here’s how Coach Glassman arranged the importance of the various factors involved in the pursuit of elite fitness:
Nutrition is the Foundation…
If nutrition is your foundation, it only makes sense to include the highest quality foods you can get your hands on. Further, it only makes sense to eat foods that work well in your body, aren’t inflammatory or autoimmune stimulating and keep you feeling good, strong, healthy and alert.