The Caveman Regimen – the Paleo Diet and exercise

Get introduced to the ancient miracle food – quinoa. Often labelled as a grain, it is a fantastic substitute to most of them, yet it is actually a seed – making it naturally gluten free, as well as being high in protein.

Post workout is repair time for your muscles, therefore focus on high protein options along with vegetables and complex carbohydrates.
Post workout is repair time for your muscles, therefore focus on high protein options along with vegetables and complex carbohydrates.

‘Eat like a caveman’ has become somewhat of a buzz-phrase in the past year, the idea of simply scoffing down bone-in cuts of steak and little else may seem like a quick-fix way to get lean and mean, Paleolithic style. Yet this diet concept requires a little bit more understanding in terms of both nutrition and its compatibility with any sort of training program.

Comedian Chris Rock summed it up best. At his stand-up show Bring The Pain, he made a reference to this new concept of the ‘caveman’ diet, describing a friend of his who recently jumped on this bandwagon, claiming he has opted for this diet in order to look specifically like a caveman – the comedian then went on to say, “the caveman looked like that, because he had to chase the thing for two weeks before getting the chance to eat it!”

But how did the Paleolithic man eat, in reality? Here is where things get interesting – the basis of the Paleo Diet stems from the belief that early man consumed exclusively ‘optimal’ foods: namely meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, as opposed to ‘non-optimal’ foods which we brought about through the agricultural revolution, some 10,000 years ago. Now, this may seem like a lot, however it is actually a very small passage of time on the evolutionary scale.

The significance of this, you may ask? 10,000 years has not been enough for our human genome to change much, therefore in a sense, our bodies are still very much caveman. This explains, for instance, why a majority of us are intolerant to gluten and some to lactose. In a nutshell: with agriculture came grains, processed sugar, dairy products and legumes. Unfortunately, these comprise a bulk of what western society consumes (and of course, our pasta and pastry-loving island!). One cannot ignore the fact that the average westerner is a far cry from an athletic and agile hunter-gatherer, and given that our bodies have not changed significantly from the evolutionary perspective, the Paleo Diet is worth a shot.

OK, so that’s sorted, and we’re off to the gym, right? Hang on a second. By now one thing may have crossed your mind: this diet (I tend to dislike the word ‘diet’ in this case – think of it as a dietary philosophy) almost entirely eradicates carbohydrates! Where does one get their energy from in order to hit the fitness centre?

Cutting down (or out) on carbohydrates forces the body to ‘switch’ fuel source and begin depleting fat stores for energy – however this ‘switching’ process is usually slightly unpleasant – cravings and light-headedness may ensue. The trick is to gradually cut out the carbohydrates present in grains, such as pasta, rice and the like, and replace them with fruit, sweet potatoes and vegetables. These foods are naturally occurring and therefore do not need to be processed in any way.

The upside? A gym-goer or athlete consuming a low-carbohydrate diet will in turn teach their working muscles to utilise the fat stores and this is actually more efficient and can level out blood sugar fluctuations.

Studies have also shown that carbohydrate-laden meals release a chemical in the brain after consumption which triggers sleep – making it an ideal pre-siesta meal, unlike a high-protein meal which may increase dopamine levels contributing to the feeling of being sharper, leaner and more primed for action, essentially making us better hunters. Grain-based carbohydrates also can lead to bloating, creating a certain sluggishness which in turn effects performance in training, and not in a good way.

What are the more scientific benefits for the athlete? The Paleo Diet increases the intake of branched chain amino acids (BCAA), of which benefits include muscle development and anabolic function, also proven to counteract immunosuppression common in endurance athletes following extensive exercise. Also decreasing the Omega-6: Omega-3, which is a fancy way of saying it will help reduce tissue inflammations common with hard training sessions, and not to mention a dramatic increase in intake of nutrient dense foods (just think that on average vegetables have nearly twice the nutrient density of grains!)

What about the actual training? Allow your body a chance to adapt to the low carbohydrate intake without overdoing it at the gym, gradually increasing the repetitions or time spent doing cardiovascular exercise. You will soon benefit from the leaner and sharper feel, and you can up the tempo as your body begins to tap into fat stores for energy.

Two hours prior to exercise, consume a meal of 200 to 300 calories, consisting of low to moderate glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates, along with some protein and healthy fats. A suggestion? Get introduced to the ancient miracle food – quinoa. Often labelled as a grain, it is a fantastic substitute to most of them, yet it is actually a seed – making it naturally gluten free, as well as being high in protein. For healthy fats, I suggest avocados and tahini.

Post workout is repair time for your muscles, therefore focus on high protein options along with vegetables and complex carbohydrates. For instance, grilled chicken breast, lean cuts of beef or salmon accompanied by hummus, vegetables, and a handful of almonds.

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