“I tried Paleo once and it didn’t work!” It’s a phrase I hear a lot in the world of CrossFit and one I am tired of hearing. It’s kind of like putting your shoes on the wrong feet and blaming the road for poor performance in a 5K race. This phrase is usually followed by a well intentioned but misguided coach’s response of, “Well how Paleo were you?”. Then, my favorite, “Brah. I was like, so Paleo I only drank tequila, had Paleo cookies, and even started putting grass fed butter in my coffee. I was wodding 6 times a week and even downloaded this Paleo app on my phone! It just doesn’t work for me…”. Sigh.
Does the above scenario seem familiar to you? I would venture to say the vast majority of those who saw little success on the Paleo failed not from lack of effort, but rather a lack of understanding. If you are wondering what went wrong with your own challenge or are considering starting one, the following information may hold the answer!
You didn’t read the book.
Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution has given you all the tools to success in a well-written, entertaining, life changing book. Not by chance, Robb is also the worlds premier Paleo diet expert and the one who popularized the use of the “30 Day Paleo Challenge”. If you didn’t read the book you may not have realized the following are part of the recipe to success. Read the darn book! Buy it here!
You weren’t sleeping enough.
While you sleep your body fights off sickness and disease, often times defeating the enemy at the gate before it ever enters. During this time your body also replenishes hormones important in creating a lean, healthy body that performs better in the gym and in the bedroom. Got your attention?
You weren’t sleeping correctly.
Getting enough sleep is not enough. The recommendations found in the book that you should have read state that you need a pitch black, cool room. When light touches your eyes your body will stifle the production of melatonin, a hormone important for regulating our sleep and wake cycles. You should also cut off all electronics well in advance prior to sleep. As your brain responds to the stimulus of a video game or tweet, the fight or flight response causes your body to produce cortisol, the bane of existence for those looking to get rid of “stubborn body fat”. This is a perfect time for you to turn the lights down and settle into bed with a nice book. I recommend you read The Paleo Solution…
You weren’t eating enough.
In my consultations it’s far more common that individuals are not eating enough than it is that they are over eating. Many years ago the FDA decided to label the macronutrients in food “based on a 2,000 calorie diet”. To many this meant the FDA had decided that 2,000 calories is the magic recommended number for calorie consumption when in fact this number is simply a rounded down figure based on a surveyed average of what people were consuming. It’s also important to note that 2,000 calories is very close to the calorie requirements of post menopausal women.
So, how should a CrossFit or other high intensity athlete approach the Paleo diet? As written by Robb Wolf himself in an article describing his own training at age 42 he sates, “Do it strict if you do not feel well. Do it religiously if you have a serious illness. Play with carb intake. If you are really active, particularly in glycogen demanding sports, I think you will need a decent amount of carbs.”. Remember, the Paleo diet is not inherently a low carb diet and in order to maintain a proper carbohydrate intake one must get creative. Athletes need carbs- it’s that simple. If you are working out intensely your Paleo diet should not look like the same as a sedentary, autoimmune individuals.
You ate too much (Paleo disguised stuff).
As with any nutritional trend, the food industry has used the gluten free craze to an inflammatory (pun) magnitude. Now, you can eat the same Type II diabetes causing junk in gluten free form! While you are encouraged to experiment with different foods and flavors on a Paleo diet, you are also warned of hyper palatable foods. Research has shown sugar to have the same chemical effects on the obese as alcohol on an alcoholic. While their procurement methods may be more environmentally friendly and pure, honey, agave, and pure maple sugar are still sugar. Someone looking to lose weight will find it just as hard to do so eating “Organic Paleo Cacao Date Mufins” as they would eating doughnuts. Sugar by a different name…
While participating in a Paleo Challenge, Robb Wolf encourages you to “know the difference in your mouth and a vacuum”. I often find that those who participate in a Paleo challenge before they’re emotionally ready to make a change will often alleviate their junk food cravings with things like salted almonds and dried fruit, both extremely high calorie, hyper palatable, and arguably non-Paleo.
You worked out too much.
This goes double for those of you who are under eating! Countless studies have shown that too much training, in particular cardiovascular focused training causes increases cortisol production. Our bodies were not designed to perform at an ultra high intensity too often and no body exemplifies this more than our Paleolithic ancestors. The brothers and sisters we are asked to imitate during our 30 day challenge slept long, stalked prey over long distances, sprinted in bursts, and often summoned their strength to build shelter, prepare food, and work with hand held tools.
In many of your CrossFit gyms today people feel that if your workout wasn’t named after a girl or hero it’s not a good workout. Assuming we are diehard CrossFiters looking to be the best in that field of study we can learn a lot about our own training in looking at the CrossFit.com main sites, programmed by CrossFit headquarters. In the last 4 days at the time this article was written you will see a strength only day, a rest day, a short 10 minute workout consisting of only two movements, and one long, drawn out workout. While the intelligence and humility to scale are up to the practitioner, the powers that be themselves have prescribed to you a rest day and a day consisting of one lift only back to back. With this in mind, why do devoted followers of the program feel that their workouts regularly need to be long, intricate workouts focused on total muscular exhaustion and endurance? If the same coach that didn’t read the book about the challenge you are supposed to be taking is regularly prescribing 20-40 minute “MetCons”, it’s time to use Google Maps…
You were sad to start and happy to finish.
It annoys me to no end when those about to participate in a 30 day Paleo challenge have one last hoorah of bad food before the dreadful, next 30 days of their entire life. These same people will also typically celebrate the end of this 30 day period of improved health with an intensified version of their previous diet which led them to a point of needing change in the first place. Here’s the thing… If you are dreading a Paleo challenge, you aren’t ready. This challenge is for those who are excited about making a positive change in their health. If you are happy when your challenge is over, chances are you made one or more of the aforementioned mistakes or are not in a position to truly WANT change.
Is the Paleo Diet for everyone? Sure. I think everyone can benefit from a form of a Paleo diet. The simply fact is, the way you eat needs to match your situation and goals. The Paleo diet of an athlete should not mimic the Paleo diet of a sedentary individual suffering from an autoimmune disease. Before throwing out the Paleo diet as unsuccessful prepare and educate yourself on a Paleo lifestyle and ask yourself if you’re ready to “change the way you look, feel, and perform”!