We believe that nutrition is the cornerstone of health and fitness, and that achieving your full athletic potential is impossible without tuning up your diet.
Opinions on what constitutes a healthy diet are wide-ranging and contentious. We’re going to tell you what we think you should eat, and we think you should trust us because we know our shit, and we’ve seen this work for hundreds of people over many years. It may run counter to “conventional wisdom” and many of the things you’ve learned from Special K commercials, but if you give it a shot you’ll thank us later.
The basic gist of the whole thing is: eat real food. Base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar. If it has ingredients you don’t recognize, don’t eat it. If you can’t imagine its path from a farm to your plate, don’t eat it. If that path must have included some sort of factory, don’t eat it. Capisce?
In addition to making sure your food is real, you’ll also want to improve on your macronutrient balance. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Every food is some combination of these three. Most people eat lots and lots and lots of carbohydrates, primarily in the form of sugar, flour, rice, and potatoes. This causes a lot of ups and downs in blood sugar, and hence a lot of ups and downs in insulin levels, which eventually leads to nasty problems like diabetes. So we want to start swapping out those carbohydrates for protein and fat to keep our blood sugar on the straight and narrow. That means cut back on the sugar, the grains, the potatoes. (This has the nice side-effect of eliminating those 3pm post-lunch sugar crashes that make you fall asleep on your desk.)
Last but not least there are a whole bunch of not-very-nice things about grains, legumes, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol. These are slightly technical and we’re trying to keep this little intro brief, so if you want to know why you shouldn’t eat them, follow the links.
We could write a book about this, but no need ’cause other people have already written them for us! There’s a whole list of further reading at the end of this post — we highly recommend you peruse those resources.
For those of you shorter on time, here’s a simple list of rules to follow.
Eat real food – meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, healthy oils. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re fresh and natural.
Do not eat grains. This includes bread, rice, pasta, corn, oatmeal, and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains. That’s not real food, right?
Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds, lentils, and peanuts. (No peanut butter, kids.)
Do not eat dairy. This includes butter, cheese (hard and soft), yogurt, and milk.
Do not eat sugars of any kind, real or artificial. If you must sweeten, use minimal quantities of honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar. No Splenda, Truvia, Stevia, etc.
Do not eat processed foods. This includes processed bars (like Zone bars), dairy-free creamers, etc.
Do not drink alcohol, in any form.
More about meat…
Animals, including fish, raised in commercial farms are not healthy so try to get grass fed beef, USDA certified organic meat, wild fish, and/or locally raised animals.
If unable to do any of the above, then eat the leanest cuts you can and trim visible fat. (Eating the fat of healthy fish, birds and animals is good for you. Eating the fat of unhealthy creatures is not.)
Eggs are good. Eggs from birds allowed to forage and run around are better.
Buffalo, elk, venison and other types of wild game are excellent choices if you can get them.
More about vegetables…
Non starchy vegetables should be a big part of each meal. Virtually all vegetables offer excellent nutritional value.
When possible choose organic, locally grown vegetables that are in season. Each of these factors will improve nutritional value.
Experiment with sautéing, roasting and grilling your veggies. Try different recipes and different ethnic foods. Learn to use herbs and spices. This stuff should taste good!
Variety is king! There are TONS of yummy veggies out there — try squashes, eggplant, garlic, leeks, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green, cabbage, celery, kale, dandelion, spinach, tomatoes, radish, parsnips, mushrooms….
Avoid starchy vegetable – potatoes, etc. If you must eat starch (it happens) try sweet potatoes.
Avoid legumes. Beans, peas, lentils and soybeans should be avoided.
More about fruit…
A paleo diet allows virtually all fruit consumption. There are a few issues though. We need to consider how the fruit was grown as well as the type of fruit to evaluate nutritional value. Also note that fruit is a very rich source of sugars, which although natural may hinder weight loss if consumed in excess.
If you can grow your own fruit or pick wild fruit – go for it!
Scavenge the local farmers market for fresh local seasonal fruit. Organic is best.
Try to avoid fruit from far away. Flying in kiwis from New Zealand is not really helping our health.
Avoid GMO (genetically modified organism) fruit.
A little fruit juice occasionally can be okay but, fruit juice is really candy.
Some fruits like bananas and pineapples have a high glycemic load and should be avoided if you are trying to loose fat.
Berries are awesome! Eat lots of berries!
More about nuts & seeds…
Nuts and seeds are filling, nutrition, and packed with protein, fatty acids, enzymes, antioxidants and lots of vitamins and minerals, especially potassium and magnesium. It is possible to screw up your fat profile with nuts though. Lots of nuts have an unacceptably high omega 6/omega 3 ratio.
Some great choices: walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds
Beware of peanuts and cashews. These are not nuts, they’re legumes. Don’t eat peanuts or peanut butter. Peanuts contain lectins and other anti-nutrients which can cause some real health problems.
Lots of packaged, shelled nuts are covered in trans fats! Read the label! Best to buy raw, unsalted nuts and spice them at home. When in doubt, buy walnuts and/or macadamia nuts.
More about fats…
Fat is good for you. Fat is essential to your well being and happiness. (This is not hyperbolic writing. Having the proper fat profile makes a huge difference to your mental outlook and moods).
Fat is a great source of energy. Fat triggers our sense of being full. Fat is an essential part of many of your cellular and hormonal processes. We sicken and die fairly quickly without adequate intake of essential fats.
However…there are many bad fats in our food supply!
Fat from healthy animals is good for you! Chicken, duck, goose, lamb, beef and pork fat can all be eaten and is an excellent choice for cooking because of heat stability. Lard is internal fat from around the kidneys. Lard from naturally (not grain) fed pork and beef is a very good choice. Lard from grass fed animals is hard to find though, so butter can be used instead. If you can find some high quality, nitrate-free bacon, the fat leftover after cooking it can be used for cooking all sorts of other delicious things!
Coconut oil is good for you and a good choice for cooking. Choose organic, cold processed coconut oil.
Olive oil is very healthy. Go for the extra virgin, cold pressed and use liberally. Extra virgin olive oil does not have great heat stability so use non-virgin olive oil or something else for high heat frying.
Trans Fats – fats damaged by heat. Trans fats can be extremely destructive to our health. Trans fats can be made at home!! Start with a healthy, unrefined oil, naturally high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids – apply excessive heat and presto! Health wrecking trans fats. Easy!
Hydrogenated and/or partially hydrogenated oils. Terrible! Reread the last paragraph.
Canola – should be avoided. Canola has a very good omega 6/ Omega 3 ratio. However, to be used commercially it has been genetically modified, highly refined, partially hydrogenated and deodorized. Yikes!
Margarine – see trans fats.
Peanut, cottonseed, soybean and wheat germ oils… not good!