Modern humans are pussy cats compared to the lions and tigers of our ancestors from the Palaeolithic period. Our ancestors are perceived to be healthier, stronger, faster, and were the manliest of men, relying on their wits and skills to hunt, gather, and survive. Because of this, and the many lifestyle diseases associated with modern living and diets, the Palaeolithic (or Paleo) diet has recently been popularised.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is essentially a diet that only contains foods that were available to our Palaeolithic ancestors. This includes meat, seafood, fruit, and vegetables. Prohibited foods include cereal grains, dairy, legumes (such as beans and soy), potatoes, processed oils, refined sugar, and most processed foods. In other words, don’t eat what wasn’t available back in the day. Much like all other diets, things are not black and white and how strictly you wish to follow it is entirely up to you. You could select to avoid some of the foods listed above, or be a hardcore modern caveman.
Although there are many arguments for and some arguments against the Paleo diet, this article is not intended to argue for or against the diet. Simply view this as a source of information so that you can make a better informed decision regarding whether you would like to practice this diet or not.
Paleo Diet Benefits
It is true that our Paleo ancestors would have very unlikely suffered lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Part of this was down to lifestyle, because living in the wilderness was no cake walk. If they wanted food, they couldn’t just dial for a pizza or drive down to the shops. Hunting was arduous and never guaranteed success, while foraging can cover many kilometres of hiking per day. The other contributing factor was their diet. It was not so much what they ate, but rather, what they didn’t. Many modern processed foods may be more delicious than barbequing some tough and gamey meat, but they can be high in saturated fat, sugar, and/or salt. In great excess, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, these nutrients are the recipe for poor health. By sticking to a Paleo diet, many of the “nasties” of modern cuisine can be eliminated to help improve overall health. Scientific studies investigating the benefits of the Paleo diet have shown that it can help with weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, and decreased blood pressure among other things.
The Paleo diet can be compatible with bodybuilders because it is typically high in protein. Compared to an average modern diet containing 58% carbohydrates and as little as 12% protein, the Paleo diet can make up around 37% protein and 41% carbs, making it ideal for providing adequate protein for building and maintaining muscle mass.
Paleo Diet Negatives
Although following a strict Paleo diet can eliminate many problematic components of modern diets, it can also unfortunately exclude many beneficial and healthy foods. For example, whole grain cereals (such as oats) and dairy have their rightful place in any healthy and anabolic diet. Whey protein, which is probably the most popular bodybuilding supplement, would be forbidden by strict followers of the Paleo diet for two reasons. Firstly, it is derived from milk, a dairy product and secondly, it is a highly processed product.
It can be argued that it is completely possible to get all the benefits of the Paleo diet without actually practicing the Paleo diet. For example, if you were to drop take away dinners, processed foods and refined sugars from your diet, and were to instead replace them with a variety of meat, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs, it should be expected to see dramatic improvements in overall health.
For a small group of people (eg. hardgainers), they may struggle to meet their macro targets. A true Paleo diet is typically very high in fibre, which is great for general health. However, dietary fibre is bulky and filling, which makes consuming large quantities of food difficult. Although protein has its place in any bulking diet, it is also necessary to consume a shedload of carbs, especially for ectomorphs. Eliminating cereals means that rice and pasta is out for bulkers, and so are potatoes, all of which are bodybuilding favourites.
The final problem with a strict Paleo diet, likewise any other strict diet, is that it can at times be inconvenient and socially difficult. Pizza night with the boys is definitely out of the question and there is less flexibility with food if you find yourself unprepared.
Take Home Message
The Paleo diet certainly has many merits, which have ample scientific backing, and can help you achieve better overall health. However, whether or not sticking strictly to the diet is necessary for optimal health and bodybuilding glory is debatable. If you choose to follow the diet, it does not have to be black or white. Simply following some aspects (eg. consuming a goof variety of meat, seafood veges, and fruits, while eliminating refined sugars), while still retaining some modern dietary components (eg dairy and whole grains) can still be great for results. One thing that is most definitely undebatable though, is that the active lifestyle of our Paleo ancestors is by far better for health and wellbeing than the sedentary lives most modern humans live. So even though you don’t need to, train as if you plan to take down a mammoth.