The Paleo Diet is an extremely popular diet plan being used by millions of people around the world. It is based upon alleged scientific principles that seem to mimic the better parts of the Adkins Diet and most ketogenic diets. As a person who has tried many different types of diet plans, I wanted to present the reasons why I dislike the Paleo Diet. Please understand that I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who has used the plan (and many others like it) and just want there to be no misinformation spread about it.
Paleo Diet: Controversial Viewpoint
I have avoided this topic for a long time because I didn't feel like stirring up controversy, but lately I am seeing more and more people going on this diet plan. As someone who tries to stop misinformation in the bodybuilding community, I cannot be quiet any longer. While my viewpoint may be controversial to some, it has to be put out there for all to see at this point.
Paleo Diet: An Overview
The idea is to help people eat like cavemen did during the Paleolithic Age. The recommendation is to only eat meats, vegetables and fruits. Specifically, it instructs you to stay away from grains, nuts and seeds. In fact, the Paleo Diet presumes that we have (as a society) become too dependent upon grains–bread, pasta, rice, corn, etc. In addition, the Paleo Diet claims we should avoid sugars (I have no issue with that) and processed foods (I have no issue with that either). Finally, the Paleo Diet claims that we should completely avoid dairy. The foods recommended by the Paleo Diet are:
- Oils (natural)
- Tubers (sweet potatoes and yams)
The Paleo Diet proposes that we eat a high percentage of quality fats.
The Paleo Diet: The Issues
No Calorie Restrictions
The very first problem I have with the Paleo Diet (and it is something easily overcome) is that it encourages people to eat as much as they want. The people on this plan are encouraged to just eat and not track calories. This is a recipe for a very fat and overweight body. Any time you eat in excess it is going to be converted to fat at some point.
I want to be sure you understand that some people have issues with dairy. Their body reacts in a negative way. If that is you, by all means avoid dairy. On the other hand, I have no issues with dairy. My body loves dairy. I drink non-fat milk once a day. I eat cheese (a healthy fat) and yogurt (good source of protein). To me, avoiding dairy means reducing the amount of calcium you take in. For women this can eventually lead to osteoporosis. Yes, you can always supplement with calcium supplements, but we all know that no supplement can replace getting your calcium directly from a natural food source.
For some reason carbohydrates have been given an extremely bad name. People look upon them as though they are evil. Somehow people believe that carbohydrates will instantly cause you to get fat. Think about that for a moment. Most bodybuilders include carbohydrates in their diet year round. Do they look fat? Quite the contrary, the carbohydrates are used by their bodies to build muscle. Muscle is a metabolic tissue and helps to burn fat from the body. Carbohydrates also provide us with energy.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that carbohydrates should be consumed in moderation and at the right times. I actually think the timing of carbohydrate intake is the most important aspect. Cutting carbohydrates out completely just doesn't make sense. I've tried it many times. What I would up with was a completely messed up metabolism in desperate need of repair. I learned a lot about nutrient timing from the book Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition and highly recommend you pick up a copy to learn more. It will change how you think about the various nutrients you take in on a regular basis.
Yes, I believe in lower carbohydrate dieting, but I do not agree with no carbohydrate dieting at all. I am in the best shape of my life and I got here by eating carbohydrates in moderation.
Fruit is very high in sugar. I find it to be very helpful to kickstart the day and to give energy prior to a workout, but to suggest that we can eat unlimited amounts of fruit is dangerous. I find it odd that the Paleo Diet advises against sugar in the diet, but supports eating a lot of sugary fruit. That, to me, is a contradiction.
Paleo Diet: The Positives
There is a lot about the Paleo Diet that I like, but to change one thing would no longer make it the Paleo Diet. To me it is a far stretch to assume that cave men were thin and healthy with a low body fat. There just is no proof of that assertion.
It is definitely a great idea to include a lean protein source with every meal, but you should also include vegetables and complex carbohydrates as well. Eating a lot of vegetables is a great piece of advice as well. Including healthy fats in the diet is also essential. Beyond that, I cannot recommend the Paleo Diet. It is, to me, just a fad that falls short when really examined closely.
Paleo Diet: If Not, Then What?
My recommendations are really simple. I think you should include a lean protein source at every single meal. You should eat 6 meals a day (small meals). You should include vegetables in every single meal. You should include complex carbohydrates in the early part of the day and phase it out in the later part of the day. You should eat the correct amount of calories for your activity level and your lean body mass. You should stick to a macronutrient ratio (protein/carbohydrates/fat) of 40/40/20 if you are trying to lose fat. If you want to gain mostly muscle (ie. you are already fairly lean) then switch to a macronutrient ratio of 50/30/20. How does this convert to real numbers? Let's take me for an example. I weigh 230 lbs. right now. This means I will be taking in 3300 calories to maintain my weight, but I want to gain muscle, so I should be eating 3600 calories a day. Using the 40/40/20 ratio, I would be eating 360 grams of protein, 360 grams of carbohydrates and 80 grams of fat every day.
The basic premise here is that you don't need some funky named plan in order to get into shape. This is far too important a topic to ignore. 80% of your results will come from how you eat, so pay attention to it.
What are your thoughts on the Paleo Diet? Please share them in the comments below.