Getting started on Paleo

Thanks to my friend Cliff, I’ve learned a lot about eating Paleo recently.

When I met Cliff this spring he was looking “hefty”. When we first started hanging out we sat around talking a lot since he was recovering from a knee injury. He would talk for hours about his favorite book: The Primal Diet, by Mark Sisson. Cliff had lost considerable poundage eating primal (coming from v obese), and continued to loose after his knee surgery, even though he was unable to exercise. From week to week I could literally see him shrinking! He is still leaning out considerably and credit’s a Paleo (or more specifically, “Primal”) style of living and eating.
So I did a TON of research on the Paleo and Primal style way of eating. Cliff had a copy of Mark Sisson’s book, which was great for me! Most of the information is given away for free, though, on Primal and Paleo style dietary outlines seemed super common sense-y, and most of fundamental “rules” of the eating style were rules I had already made for myself through trial and error:

Fundamental Principals:

Grains are bad: Grains have always been difficult for me to eat, so it was nice to hear that they are a no-no on this diet.

Avoid dairy unless it’s raw or minimally processed: I’m intolerant to most dairy anyway. Seems like lots of Paleo/Primal eaters eat dairy anyway though.

Eat nuts: In moderation! Nuts are an ok food for some people, but in my first few days eating Primal I gained weight, and not the good kind, until I was able to put away the raw cashews (cashews are not recommended in paleo/primal diets in the first place, peanuts are also to be avoided but almonds, pecans, and walnuts are ok for some reason). It’s hard for me to eat just a handful, and that bumps my calorie intake out of the park. I’d been through the nut problem before when I was eating raw vegan. I need to chill on the nut butters.

Eat lots of fat from animal sources: Cliff eats tons of bacon, eggs, and full fat cuts of meat. My brain is still struggling this being okay to do. I ate “Cliff’s Way” for a few weeks and felt energetic but didn’t change bodyfat percentage. I decided to get away from the high fat Primal style of eating, and went for more lean meats and fruits and veggies which seems to be the Paleo way to go.

Eat protein: This doesn’t mean gorge on protein, but get enough! Protein should be at least 40% of your calorie intake. (But get your veggies in too, dope!)

Keep carbs low: If you add a lot of fat to your diet, you have to keep carbs low. If you’re going to do more carbs, eat less fat! When I have time, I keep track of my carb/protein/fat percentages on Primal encourages high fat, Paleo encourages lean meats.

Eat lots of non-starchy veggies: You can eat tons of veggies at every meal and still keep carbs pretty low. Sweet potatoes, tubers, and fruits are what bring your carb intake up. Try to reserve a serving or two carby stuff for high-exercise days and only if you need it. That way you can enjoy the starch guilt-free while you restore your depleted glycogen stores. A win-win situation for your body.

My favorite starch indulgence after lifting heavy: Bake sweet potato, then slice into medallions and pan fry in olive oil and lemon pepper. (Make sure your brand of lemon pepper has no added sugar!)

Fine Tuning with Paleo

Depending on how many fruit carbs you want, try to get them from a low-fructose source like berries. Apples and watermellons are like bags of sugar. Fat+Sugar is a bad combination. If you’re going to have plenty of one, limit the other.

The number of carbs you need depends on whether you are trying to lean out, gain muscle, or maintain weight. Check out Mark Sisson’s carb curve:

Cycling carbs is also VERY effective, but takes discipline and planning. I will spend two or three days with no fruit/starch carbs beyond a rare cup of blueberries. Then I plan a day in which I get to have two or three delicious servings of starch, maybe from a coconut flour pancake or from sweet potato. I don’t feel a sugar slump afterward. Just steady, even energy. And it doesn’t cause me to crave MOAR sweets the way mango or another fruit snack usually would. Behold, the power of the slow carb…

Also, IF (intermittent fasting) is a great addition to this diet. Most people eating Primal/Paleo are looking to loose a ton of weight, combat diabetes, or just get healthier. For anyone looking to fine tune, I recommend the LeanGains website. It’s friggin awesome:

As for training, Paleo/Primal lifestyle calls for less cardio (thank god! I hate running and can’t handle more than once a week.), and more constant moving at a slow pace. Now I do a couple 20 minute HIIT sprint sessions in the week. Most of the times one session is all I manage. And with all my handstands, tumbling, aerial, unicycling, ballet, and general circus training I figure I’ve got most other exercise needs covered. It’s also very important to LIFT HEAVY, according to Mark Sisson. So I’m weight training once a week. I’m building muscle incredibly fast this way. And leaning out, as long as I don’t go over my caloric needs (yes you still have to maintain a slight caloric deficit in order to shred. Bummer.) Can’t wait to see where this goes. Stay tuned for more updates!

2 thoughts on “Getting started on Paleo

  1. I just tried a flying trapeze class last weekend and fell in love! I am commited to getting into “trap” shape and found your blog. I was thinking about following the tribal diet and switching up my current workout routine to what Mark recommends in Tribal – how is it working for you? Do you see benefits to your work?

    • I absolutely do. I gain muscle faster when I am eating well in full Paleo style. From time to time I eat “junk” processed things like refined grains (bread), sugary desserts, etc. at a holiday and I feel weaker, easily fatigued, and grumpy at practice for up to THREE days afterward. It’s enough to get me diligently back on track.

      I always keep protein high, and let fat/carbs be moderate to low. Natural animal fats are good, as well as slow carbs like sweet potato. But protein’s gotta be at the top of the list. is so good for keeping track of your ratios.

      When I’m full Paleo I feel very well supported. Energy levels are good, muscles build fast, my tummy looks strong, and I sleep well.

      Hope that helps!


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