The Paleo Diet: Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Paleo weight loss diet

If you haven’t noticed yet, every decade we are met with a new and revolutionary diet that hits the ground running in the fitness industry. Last decade the whole low fat craze came and went, and now we are being bombarded with the low carb trend, leading to the emergence of the Paleo Diet.

You’ve probably heard about the latest diet that’s taking over – the Paleo diet, named after the paleolithic era and centered around the concept that we should eat like our distant hunter/gatherer ancestors did because evolution is a lot slower than the agricultural revolution.  Many of our Calgary bootcamp clients ask us questions about this.

The idea is that humans have been evolving for 200,000 years and we have only had agriculture for about 10,000 of them so our bodies have not yet adapted to the high number of grains we consume in our modern life, not to mention the chemical laden processed foods that surround us at every turn these days. If we eat as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did, we will all be in amazing health.  Some proponents of the Paleo way of life contend that if people back then had had access to modern medicine and shelter, not to mention guns to shoot the sabre tooth tiger that was stalking them for dinner, those long ago ancestors would have lived to be over 100 years old.

For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about the “pure” Paleo diet, not some of the variations out there which allow limited amounts of dairy, tubers and preserved meats. Pure paleo has lots of meat – organ meats especially, plus poultry, fish and eggs. Fruits are generally limited to berries and some tree fruits, though opinions differ on which tree fruits are acceptable. Vegetables are abundant in the Paleo diet, though tubers and corn, which is actually a grain, are off limits. Nuts and seeds abound, with the exception of peanuts, which are actually a legume. No grain at all, in any form.

 

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Before you drink the Paleo Kool Aid, lets look at whether or not this type of eating is actually beneficial, and more important, sustainable.

The good:
•    Paleo promotes large amounts of vegetables and lean meats
•    Emphasis is on organic foods, free range meats, venison whenever possible
•    Does not allow processed foods at all
•    Does not allow grains, beans or peanuts  at all, which can improve digestion, insulin sensitivity and reduce allergic reactions
•    Does not allow sugar at all. Some Paleo variations allow some honey
•    Does not have Dairy at all, which can reduce allergic reactions
•    Does not allow alcohol

The Not So Good
•    To go with high quality, organic foods you will have to spend a LOT of money
•    Because of the limited food options, you may get bored with your menu easily
•    You get to eat sweetmeats. That’s right, organs. You can honestly say you are an offal cook
•    It’s really really really hard to eat out when you’re on the Paleo diet
•    You may need to supplement with probiotics
•    Does not allow alcohol

However the # 1 drawback is that Paleo WILL NOT support intense training long term, which is critical for making changes to your body, losing fat, retaining muscle and achieving leanness ( or muscle tone), and increasing your level of fitness, both muscular and cardiovascular.

The reason why? Because The Paleo Diet contains little in the form of complex carbs which are especially needed for energy levels, maintaining and optimizing fat burning hormones, metabolic function, retaining muscle tissue, and required for intense training/exercise.  Complex carbs are things like yam, sweet potato, potato, brown rice, quinoa, squash, oatmeal etc.

If your goals are to lose body fat, tone, enhance muscle definition, fit into clothes better, and increase your strength and fitness level, than training with the upmost intensity is mandatory (relative to your fitness level of course). Consuming low to no complex carbohydrates will make this very difficult, and near impossible for most.

Personally I experimented with Paleo for nearly  1 year and my training intensity suffered greatly. I actually had my metabolism tested after this experimentation and did have a drop in my basic metabolic rate, which could only have been attributed to my nutrition plan as all else was the same as before.

So here is what we recommend to you and what we recommend to all of our Calgary bootcamp clients:

1.    If you are training with weights and intense interval cardio sessions 2-5x/week combined, then pure paleo should be out. You need complex carbs to support your training.

2.    Strive for Balance, avoid extremes. Any diet or food plan that requires you to drastically manipulate or restrict any macronutrient level ( protein, fat, carb), is never sustainable and will never work in the long run. This is something we educate all of our Calgary bootcamp members on! Look to achieve balance in your nutrition with complex carbs, fruits and veggies, lean protein, healthy fats and lots of water.  Aim for 40 % carbs, 35 % protein, and 25 % fat as a food starting point.

3.    Only use pure paleo if recommended by a doctor if you have severe levels of type 2 diabetes. Pure paleo is also a good option for those who are completely sedentary and inactive, and want to maintain health and a healthier bodyweight. However, I would never encourage anyone to go this route.
It is much smarter to “burn” fat through intense exercise and proper nutrition, than to “starve” fat by caloric and nutritional restriction.

 

Always Here To Inspire and Motivate You!   David Macdonald

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Vitality Fitness Calgary

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