If you’ve ever been to a CrossFit box, you’ve undoubtedly heard about “Paleo.” It’s a common nutrition program followed by CrossFit athletes and other athletes alike. But what is Paleo? And is it the right eating plan for your busy life?
Note: Our blogs should never replace expert medical advice. If you want to learn more about Paleo – or any nutrition program – contact your doctor or a licensed nutrition professional.
What is Paleo?
The Paleo diet is inspired by an old diet program. We’re talking REALLY old – like, the earliest nutrition program. “Paleo” refers to the Paleolithic era, a time spanning from roughly 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 B.C. This was the time when our ancient ancestors lived in simple communities, in primitive structures, and ate only what they could find through hunting and foraging: meat, fish, fruit, berries and nuts. We hadn’t yet invented ways to farm crops, didn’t know how to make wheat into bread and didn’t have any form of dairy in our daily diets.
The Paleo program takes the earliest diet of humanity and embraces it once again. The minds behind the diet suggest the human body isn’t genetically compatible with many of today’s modern foods. When humans began farming, we incorporated wheat, dairy, and legumes – foods our ancient ancestors didn’t eat. Because our bodies weren’t made to eat these foods, the changes in our diets have outpaced the ability to adapt. And that, says Paleo proponents, is what eventually led to an increase in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Those who follow a Paleo diet return to the basics, eating the same foods as our ancestors (loincloths are optional). It’s sometimes known as the “Caveman Diet,” “Stone Age Diet,” or “Hunter-Gatherer Diet,” but the premise is the same: keep your diet to plants, fruits, berries, nuts and seeds, and lean meat or fish. The diet discourages processed foods, sugar, dairy, legumes such as beans and peas, and all grains.
Why is Paleo So Popular Among CrossFit Athletes?
CrossFit prides itself on “safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition.” For CrossFitters, that means no sugar, few (if any) starches, and a diet rich in plants, fruits, nuts and seeds, and lean meats. Low-carb is the name of the CrossFit game.
Because CrossFit was founded on a low-carb, high-protein premise, many CrossFit athletes choose the Paleo diet as their preferred eating plan. Increased protein intake means more muscle mass, fewer carbs means our bodies burn excess fat, and the steady blood sugar levels mean you won’t hit that 3:00 pm crash.
But perhaps it’s so popular because, well, it’s popular. Many CrossFit athletes eat a Paleo diet or some version of it. That means everyone at the box hears about Paleo, learns about it, and can share ideas and experiences.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Paleo?
Like all nutrition programs, Paleo has its share of critics. There are many benefits to eating Paleo, but there are some drawbacks as well.
Pros of Paleo
A series of studies have repeatedly found Paleo to be an effective nutrition plan for weight loss, blood sugar regulation, blood pressure control, and waist size reduction. Together, these components mean a healthier heart and a lower risk for diabetes.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables also provides your body with essential nutrients, including potassium, which supports kidney health, blood pressure regulation, and improved muscle function.
The focus on lean meat and fish means you’ll get plenty of protein, a vital component for muscle growth and development. For athletes, this protein-rich diet is key to achieving desired gains.
Cons of Paleo
Any restrictive diet causes concern among health professionals. While lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables are all good things, they’re not the only components of a healthy diet. Sure, we can all agree that American diets can cut way back on sugar and processed foods. But completely eliminating entire food groups can have drawbacks.
For instance, cutting out grains might make it difficult to get the recommended amount of daily fiber. Calcium intake is a concern, too, since Americans typically rely on dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt for daily doses of this vital nutrient. Magnesium deficiency is also a concern since the Paleo diet cuts out many magnesium-rich food sources like beans and other legumes.
Is Paleo Right for Me?
Like all diet plans, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The Paleo diet is popular among CrossFit athletes, but it’s not for everyone. For some, Paleo works exceptionally well, giving extraordinary results. But others find the restrictive diet difficult to maintain long-term. It’s possible to follow a less strict form of the Paleo diet, making it more sustainable.
Only you can decide whether eating Paleo will fit into your lifestyle.
Before trying any diet plan, consult your physician.