Q: I would really like to give Paleo a try. I’ve worked out all my life and feel good, but I know that if I ate cleaner, I would be healthier, feel better and possibly even perform better. Do you have any tips for how a 25-year-old lean male athlete who does CrossFit five times a week could approach the Paleo diet without fear of losing weight and sacrificing strength gains?
A: The Paleo diet is a great starting place when it comes to clean eating, but it doesn’t have to be the end-all. In other words, use Paleo principles as the platform for your clean-eating approach, but be realistic. If you’re young, healthy, highly active and without any autoimmune disease concerns, then don’t get obsessed with the little things. Instead, focus on changing lifestyle habits as a strategy to implement clean eating. The following recommendations can help you do this.
It’s hard to maintain weight and strength when you’re not getting sufficient food, and people often don’t eat enough when going Paleo for the first time because they don’t know what to eat and/or don’t have enough Paleo-friendly food readily available. So give yourself options. Before making your transition to cleaner eating, stock up on whole-food protein bars and order some protein powder and/or branched-chain amino acids. Because eating clean means eating real food, make quality meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, oils and nuts the focus of your grocery-store adventures. It’s also a good idea to keep avocados, canned coconut milk, potatoes and white rice in the larder; use these low-sugar options to provide an easy source of extra calories to meals and snacks as needed.
Cook in Bulk
In a matter of hours, you can prepare a couple of pounds of beef in the slow cooker, bake several pounds of chicken in the oven and steam veggies to last you the entire week. While you’re at it, hard-boil a dozen eggs so they’re ready to grab at your convenience.
Keep Carb Intake Sufficient
Incorporate nutrient-dense potatoes, squashes and even nutrient-poor but innocuous white rice in your diet. Paleo and clean eating is not synonymous with low carbohydrate intake, but many who switch to cleaner eating tend to drop their carb consumption — whether purposely or not. One strategy to keep weight on and continue making strength gains at the gym is to maintain adequate carbohydrate intake; for some athletes, this could mean as much as 100 to even 200 grams of carbohydrates to fuel workouts and aid recovery on strenuous days.
Focus On Fat As a Fuel Source
Many men actually struggle to get in enough calories during the day, so eating more fat — which provides 9 calories per gram, compared with 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein — might be beneficial. Try adding quality oils to your morning coffee and be liberal with oils in cooking and serving. Canned, full-fat coconut milk — a relatively inexpensive source of quality fats/calories — can be used in protein shakes and smoothies. Fats also can help stave off sweet-tooth cravings, which just might be what you need to stay honest on your clean-eating journey.
Rest and Sleep!
It’s during rest and sleep that you make progress. Consequently, inadequate rest and sleep equals inadequate growth and recovery, regardless of your diet. No R & R, no PR, period.