Paleo, so what exactly does that mean?
In human history, the Paleolithic period spanned from 2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 years ago.
Our Paleolithic ancestors survival depended on their ability to hunt and gather food.
Primary food sources would have been wild animals, that were hunted and eaten “nose-to-tail” and whatever wild fruits and vegetables that could have been foraged.
This is where the term “Hunter Gatherer” comes from.
Our hunter gatherer ancestors would have been forced to continuously adapt to changing weather patterns, animal migrations and seasonal changes, meaning that sometimes they would have had an abundance of food (especially after a big hunt) and other times they would have gone hungry. There would have been NO regularity to meals.
Energy levels and physical activity would have also ebbed and flowed with the seasons and food availability. They would have been at a high during the summer time for hunting and mating (feast time).
On the flip side, our ancestors would have virtually gone into hibernation during winter time to conserve heat and energy when food was not abundant (famine time).
The Palaeolithic period ended when our ancestors started cultivating crops and farming animals only 10,000 years ago.
So, what now?
The upshot of all this, is that after millions of years of genetic adaptation, we have inherited a “feast, famine metabolism.”
This means that our genetics are now at odds with our environment.
Food is no longer scarce and we rarely have to hunt it. We have many, many more options when it comes to what we eat and how often we eat it.
Interestingly, researchers now understand that this abundance and variety of food in our overstimulated environment is more challenging to our genetic make-up than ever before.
Most of us are not particularly well adapted to digesting and metabolising grain crops or any food that has been man-made or man-altered (we have been eating these highly processed and refined foods for a relatively short period of time compared to millions of years of eating meat, vegetables and fruit.)
We now suffer from a multitude of modern diseases that have not been observed in past and present (non-westernised) hunter gatherer cultures.
Our comparatively sedentary lifestyles and the consumption of calorie-dense foods that we are not well adapted to eating, all challenge our body’s normal metabolic functioning and cause an inflammatory response.
We all know that too much inflammation is bad for us, but this is not the kind of inflammation that that is easily fixed with an icepack!
Too much underlying inflammation in our bodies is at the root of most of the diseases of our modern civilisation. Diseases like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, allergies and autoimmune conditions, even cancer.
Our diet is trying to tell us something.
To be thrive and be happy and healthy, we need to eat what is effectively, an anti-inflammatory diet.
A diet that would closely resemble the modern equivalent of the Hunter Gatherer diet.
This should include: animals living as close as possible to their natural state (grass-fed or wild-caught) and plants as uncultivated as possible. Buying food that is organic, in season and grown or produced locally is good and growing your own is even better!
Simple yes, but by no means easy.
Let’s take a look at what should make up our diet.
The three macronutrients, protein carbohydrate & fat should be a part of every meal and in an ideal world, also every snack.
Dietary protein is the nutrient that provides the essential building blocks that our body needs for normal function.
These building blocks (or amino acids) are critical for the construction & repair of all of the tissues in your body including your skin, organs and (most importantly to a CrossFitter) muscle.
Excess protein is converted to glucose. It can then be burned for energy or stored for future energy use.
Carbohydrate is the nutrient that provides us with energy we require to power our brains muscles and other metabolic processes in our bodies.
Carbohydrates convert directly to glucose. Glucose is then burnt as ‘fuel’.
However, consuming more than a moderate amount of carbohydrate will increase our underlying systemic inflammation through the overproduction of cholesterol in the liver (primarily LDL and vLDL, this is a cholesterol package that is damaging to our body) and the overproduction of hormones associated with fat storage.
So yes, excess carbs will be stored as fat.
Animal fats: ghee, butter, lard and the fat found in animal meat
Nuts & seeds
Fat is the nutrient that provides the structure for every single cell and hormone in your body.
Fat promotes optimal cellular function, protects vital organs and regulates body temperature. It also assists in maintaining healthy skin and hair.
Fat will stimulate your production of leptin, a hormone which sends the “I am full” signal to your brain.
So, now you know what to eat, how much is enough?
From my point of view, if you eat when you’re hungry (and I do mean hungry, not just bored) you should be fine.
A plate full of vegetables, a piece of protein about the size of your fist and a modest handful of fat. (You should be able to close your hand over it).
The bigger dudes will automatically have bigger paws, and the more petite will also be eating in proportion to their body size.
If you listen to your body and only eat (as prescribed) when hungry, you are more likely to maintain a healthy diet. If you are challenged by the notion of “hungry” and surprisingly many people are; just eat at family mealtimes.
Eat clean and eat to fuel activity and the metabolic processes of the body.
No more, no less.
If you are a CrossFitter, and most of you reading this will be:
2 litres minimum.
Some days this is easy (warm weather) other days a little more challenging, but keep a filled water bottle with you at all times. This will make it infinitely easier.
Now, the most important part.
Apply this to your life (not just the “now” moment).
Allow yourself to live a little.
If you make it strict, and there is no room for deviation you are more likely to binge or throw it all in.
Life is about appreciating the small pleasures.
So have that piece of birthday cake and a drink or two. Just don’t overdo it. If you do fall off the wagon, then get back on it. Quitting is not permitted
So now what NOT to eat?
Any refined ‘carbs’ including pasta, bread, pizza and chippies
These foods have an awfully high count of carbohydrate calories.
They will fill you up (but only temporarily) and provide little room for eating the good stuff.
These foods will also spike your glucose levels resulting in a massive overproduction of the hormones that manage your energy storage and usage (primarily insulin), just to cope with the extra glucose load.
And, yep you guessed it, all of this excess glucose will be stored as fat.
High GI foods => High Glucose levels => High Insulin production => Increased Fat Stores
Now, in addition to this grains have the super X factor and should be avoided at all costs.
Grains are dense in carbs but little else.
Grains have a propensity to promote inflammation in the body by damaging the digestive system, causing an immune response and affecting your ability to absorb nutrients.
Grains will stimulate your appetite, leading you to eat more food than your body actually needs.
Grains also stimulate your brain’s reward pathways, making you crave more carbs.
All of this will leave your body nutrient poorer, hormonally deranged and with an excess of energy; which yep, you guessed it, has to be stored somewhere!
Ideally dairy should be eliminated, limited or reduced, especially if you have a sensitivity to it.
There is increasing evidence that dairy also increases underlying systemic inflammation in the body. Dairy can damage your gut, affecting your absorption of nutrients and stimulating an immune response.
Dairy, particularly milk, has an amazing ability to spike insulin levels (totally out of proportion with the actual amount of sugars in milk). It can also unfavourably stimulate certain growth-factors and have an acidifying effect on the body.
Interestingly enough, a net acid-producing diet actually promotes bone demineralisation, totally the opposite to growing nice, strong bones!
You need to make your own call on this.
If you do choose to eat it, whole fat dairy is preferable to low-fat or “light.”
Unpasteurised and non-homogenised dairy is also preferable, so think as close to the natural-straight-out-of-the-cow state as possible. You may have to get creative here, as it is currently illegal to sell raw milk in Australia.
Most people would be in a less inflamed state if they cut dairy from their diets.
Some people can tolerate goats milk and other goat products better than dairy.
This is an evolving science, and the needs of one athlete are never the same as another.
You should be seeking dietary advice from a nutritionist if you are aware that your food intake is not meeting the demands of your workouts.
Having said that, my exposure to this forum has been that:
Every athlete should be taking a quality fish oil. And I do mean quality. Fish oil reduces inflammation and will promote better joint function.
Magnesium in some form. You will benefit from Magnesium with better recovery and reduced muscle soreness.
An electrolyte drink that does not contain high levels of sugar. Electrolytes will assist in the maintenance of your body’s hydration levels improve the body’s ability to flush waste toxins after a workout and promote recovery.
I am by no means an expert. I have written this purely as a response to the questions I am asked most frequently. Please seek formal advice if you are unsure what this means to you.
And here is some good old advice (free just for you)
Grow up and make some decisions. Be an adult when it comes to your Nutrition. Take responsibility for what goes into your mouth.
I would like to thank Crystal who helped me pull this together, you are the perfect “editor”.
Please see Crystal’s own blog at Eat.Sleep.Move for a “holistic approach to better living”