Plenty has been written about the merits of the Paleolithic, or Caveman Diet, as it pertains to fat loss, but it holds tremendous application for making gains in lean body mass as well. Here are 5 of the most important aspects of Paleo eating in your quest for more strength and size:
1. Protein, protein, protein. One of the basic tenents of the Paleo diet is “if you can kill it or pick it, you can eat it.” In essence, that means that about 50% of your food choices are protein-based foods. Make sure you’re getting substantial portions of animal protein at each meal, rotating through a variety of sources such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, bison, venison, buffalo, ostrich, eggs and shellfish.
2. Boost your Omega-3’s. Omega-3 fatty acids turn on the body’s lipolytic (fat-burning) genes, and turn off the lipogenic (fat-storing) ones. To boot, EPA is a known anti-inflammatory, while DHA aids in brain function, which can lead to increased focus and concentration during intense training sessions. On top of including food sources that are rich in Omega-3’s such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, avocado, and coldwater fish such as salmon, research shows that consuming up to 1 gram of fish oil per percentage point of bodyfat can increase fat-burning and insulin sensitivity, creating an environment more suited toward making gains in lean muscle mass.
3. Eat Paleo carbs and avoid Neo carbs. Paleo carbs fit the other side of the “if you can kill it or pick it” adage. These carb sources are minimally (or not at all) processed and tend to be digested and assimilated much more easily than Neo (man-made) carbs such as donuts, pasta, breads, etc. Ask yourself, “did a caveman have access to this?” If the answer is yes, then you can eat it. Sweet potatoes? Yes. Berries? Yep. Onions, radishes, asparagus? Yes, yes, double-yes. Bagels? Absolutely not. Don’t worry about the people who tell you you can’t eat fruit before bed, because those same people have no problem shoveling a bunch of processed garbage with ingredients you can neither spell nor pronounce into their mouths on a regular basis.
4. Address deficiencies. Modern man has to cope with several major vitamin and mineral deficiencies that prehistoric man didn’t have to worry about – namely zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D. These 3 deficiencies impact 100% of the people that I’ve ever tested, and play a major role in your success in becoming bigger, stronger and faster.
-Magnesium. Soil used to be replete with all of the minerals we needed, but since the advent of modern agriculture, a combination of over-farming, poor crop rotation, and genetic modification leaves a lot of our crops, and in turn, us, with inadequate amounts of magnesium. Magnesium lowers cortisol (stress) production at the end of the day and allows you to sleep. When you sleep, you produce growth hormone. No sleep = no growth. To give you an idea of an average deficiency, optimal magesium levels in red blood cells are between 4.8 and 6.2. The “norms” in a lab test are 1.9 to 2.4, so even if you fall in the normal levels, remember that, to quote strength coach Charles Poliquin, “those are Homer Simpson norms.”
-Zinc. Zinc is another mineral that suffers from modern agriculture, except its responsibility is helping with the conversion of testosterone into its usable form. Low levels of zinc can lead to aromatization, which is the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. I shouldn’t have to explain how that’s not good. Shoot for the high end of the lab norms in a blood test.
-Vitamin D. Cavemen spent all day outside, and therefore absorbed an extremely large amount of vitamin D from sunshine, probably to the tune of the equivalent of 10,000-50,000IU a day. However, for most people the closest they get to sunlight is what slips through the blinds in the window next to their cubicle. Low vitamin D levels have been traced to everything from depression (good luck training when you want to jump off a building), to insulin resistance (poor insulin management leads to fat gain), to higher risk of skin cancer (you can’t train if you’re dead). Supplement with 5-10,000IU a day and monitor with blood work until your levels are 80-100nG/ml. It may take a while – the average person who lives north of the equator has blood levels of about 14-20nG/ml.
5. Graze, don’t gorge. Large, infrequent meals play havoc with your body and result in anything from poor digestion and upset stomach to insulin resistance and fat gain. Your body is evolved to eat casually throughout the day, not in one or two big portions. Shoot for eating every 2 1/2-3 hours.
It may take some getting used to because it’s not trendy enough and because it doesn’t call for any flashy supplements like Ultra-Mega-Super-Beefcake 3000, but this is how your body is made to work. So save yourself the stress of trying to fight it and just let it do what it’s evolved to do.