You’ve been working hard in the gym and you’ve seen results.  You’ve been steadily getting stronger.  But your clothes still aren’t fitting the way you would like and the PR’s are not coming as quickly as they were. You’ve chalked up that nagging elbow and knee pain to “getting older”.   Guess what…now it’s time to address your nutrition.  This part is harder than coming into the gym and putting in the physical work.  This part requires more from you because it is not as straightforward as picking up a barbell or doing a set of pull-ups.  You will need equal parts dedication, curiosity, tenacity, and determination and you will use these qualities to help you find and stick with a plan that brings you the best results.

Where do I start?

There are so many options out there and it’s hard to know where to start.  This seems to be the limiting factor for many.  We get conflicting information about what is healthy.  Am I supposed to eat a low fat or high fat?  Healthy whole grains or no grains?  Does a healthy breakfast really start with Cheerios, oatmeal, a banana and some orange juice?  This is where I’ll step in and cut to the chase.  I’ve tried a LOT of different things in my fitness journey and it wasn’t until 2010 when I tried the paleo diet for the first time that I started to understand the impact of food quality vs food quantity.  I’m no expert, but I’ve read enough to play like I am, so just roll with me.  In this post, I’m going to try to give you a better understanding of the paleo diet lifestyle and how to use this approach to feel better, look better, and enhance your performance in the gym.

What exactly the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is a nutritional approach that uses an evolutionary template to help you make informed, healthy decisions about the food you eat.  Because eating a paleo diet is satisfying and sustainable, we prefer to call it a “lifestyle” rather than a diet.  By choosing foods that promote gut health, decrease overall inflammation and maintain insulin levels, a person might find that they feel more energetic, sleep better, have less joint pain, lose body fat, and improve their overall markers of health and disease.

How do we do it?  We eat a variety of quality meats, poultry, fish, and eggs.  We enjoy healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados.  We eat plenty of vegetables and some fruit, preferably berries.  We eat nuts (in moderation) and occasionally enjoy good sources of dairy like pastured cream and butter.
What do we avoid?  We stay away from grains, dairy, and legumes, specifically because they are known gut irritants and can cause inflammation. 
This is not a one size fits all type of diet.  We are all unique and respond differently to the foods we eat.  Some people are dealing with autoimmune issues, some with blood sugar control problems and others struggle with digestive and gut issues.  All of these things factor into our food choice possibilities and what we are able to tolerate.  Below are a few videos that will give you a better understanding of what this paleo gig is all about.
What I love about the paleo diet is that scientifically it makes sense to me.  I like to know the details about why certain grains like wheat (which contains gluten)  can cause so many problems within the gut at a cellular level and the impact this has on immune function, brain health and overall inflammation.  I’m amazed at the negative impact highly processed foods have on overall health and how industrial seed oils are at the root of cardiovascular disease and the silent inflammation that continues to wreck our health.  I am fascinated with hormonal regulation and how the complex hormonal signaling of hormones like grehlin, leptin and insulin control our appetites and our propensity for obesity.
Blah blah blah.
OK, so not everyone gets into the minutiae of the biochemistry of food.  They just want to know what to eat and how to look better naked.  I get that.  But…I have found that if I know the WHY’s behind my food choices, and understand the impact of my choices, I’m much better at making a good, informed choice.  That’s where curiosity comes into play.  I want you to learn why we focus on quality proteins, veggies, fruits and fats and why we eschew things like grains, some dairy, and legumes.  At the very least, you should grab a book and start reading.  Subscribe to some good blogs and see why this way of eating will work for you.

Here is what you need to do to get started:

First, I want you to go to Robb Wolf’s page and read his post on What is Paleo?  He’s my man and he’s funny too.  If you haven’t heard his podcast, you should check it out on iTunes.  (The Paleo Solution).
I’m also going to give you a link to the resources page on my blog PaleoCurious.  I started this a couple of years ago to post recipes for my paleo challengers and it’s a place I direct people when they want to find more info on paleo.  I wish I was better at updating, but I’ll get there.
1.  Buy a good book or two on the paleo diet.  It’s nice to have a resource and a basic understanding of why we do what we do.  A few excellent resources, among many, are:
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig
The Protein Power Life Plan by Dr. Michael Eades
The Paleo Answer by Dr. Loren Cordain
Primal Body Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas
Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis
Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilipo

2.  Buy a paleo cookbook or surf the internet for good, paleo recipes.  To make this “diet” sustainable, it’s important to try new things and stay out of a rut.  Often, I google a recipe I’m interested in and put the word “paleo” in front of it.  You’ll be surprised how many options come up.  Print up the recipe and try it out.  If it is something you didn’t like, throw it away and try again.  If you DID like it, save it and put it in a 3 ring binder and begin creating your very own paleo cookbook of tried and true recipes that you know you like.  Below is a list of some of the cookbooks I have tried and love.  More and more are coming out every week.
Paleo Comfort Foods by Julie and Charles Mayfield
Make it Paleo by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason
Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan
Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan
Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso
The Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson
Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam
3.  Decide that today is the day you are going to make a life-changing decision.  Define your goals.  What do you want to do?  Lose weight, get off medication, improve your immune function or just plain feel better?  A 30-day intervention may be the right place to start.  Dallas and Melissa Hartwig of the Whole 30 blog will point you in the right direction.  Their website has helped thousands of people regain their health.  Their Whole 9 Life and Whole 30 blogs are jam-packed with information on nutrition, staying on track, and working out among other great reads.  Be sure to check them out.
Other wonderful blogs include:
Whole 9 Life
Robb Wolf
Balanced Bites
Mark’s Daily Apple
Each one of the sites has extensive lists of resources and guides put together to help you be successful in your paleo lifestyle.  Explore each of these sites and read their blogs, use their resource and getting started pages.  These guys have been at it for a long time and have helped a multitude of people get healthy.  While there are many good blogs out there, this is just a good start.  I will list other places for you to surf as well.4.  Clean out your fridge!  Get rid of anything that has high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, and weird man-made stuff that doesn’t even qualify for food.  Robb Wolf has a good place in his getting started section of his blog where he gives tips for getting on the paleo track.5. Go to the grocery store and buy real food.  Shop the perimeter of the store.  Load up on veggies, fruit, and quality protein like grass-fed beef, wild caught fish, pastured free range poultry and eggs.  Ditch the bread, pasta, and sugary cereals.  Diane Sanfilipo of Balanced Bites has some good guides to help you shop at the grocery store. This is a LOT of information, but don’t feel like you have to digest it all at once.  (heh heh…she said digest).  I want this to be a resource page for you so you have lots of info in one spot.  These are the places I go for info too.  Then, you need to get planning and create some meal plan for yourself.  If you’re not sure how to do this, read this post from Stupid Easy Paleo. If you’ve already been experimenting with a paleo template and have found yourself struggling because you’re still feeling hungry or not losing weight, you should check out these posts here and here. That should do it for now.  In my next post, I’ll expand on the idea of paleo, but help you apply zone principles in the event you want to quantify.  Until then, read up and give this a whirl.  It really is all about doing the basics well.