Paleo Diet 1

It’s 50,000 B.C. and you’re jonesing for some grub. Since it’s about 520 centuries before the first 7-Eleven opens, you have two options–head to the nearest forest and scrounge up some berries, seeds, and edible plants, or grab your trusty spear and go hunting. Either way, one thing’s for sure: You won’t be chowing down on anything containing wheat, corn, or other grains, since it’s still a good 40,000 years until someone gets the idea to plant a seed.

For more than two and a half million years, this was the way humans of the Paleolithic Era (between 2.6 million and 10,000 B.C.) got by. And according to some, like Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, this is the way it should still be.


“It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective,” says Cordain, whose 2002 book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, makes the case for eating like a hunter-gatherer. “It’s a system of eating that we’ve already adapted to.” Cordain is among the more prominent advocates of a growing number of nutritionists and trainers who advocate following the dietary protocol of our prehistoric ancestors. Endorsed early on as a worthy idea by gastroen-terologist Walter L. Voegtlin in his 1975 book The Stone Age Diet, primitive-style eating has since caught the attention of scores of athletes and dieters over the past decade. In fact, so popular is paleo eating that it’s been the subject of more than a dozen books–with titles like Neanderthin (by Ray Audette) and The Evolution Diet (by Joseph SB Morse)–and numerous websites and blogs, such as

The foundational pillars of these primitive diets are all the same: meat, seafood, nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds–essentially anything that can be hunted and gathered. (These can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, or cooked in any other simple, healthful manner.) Absent are cereal grains, rice, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar, vegetable oils, salt, processed foods, and even milk. “Wild animals cannot be milked,” says Cordain.

The foundational pillars of these primitive diets are all the same: meat, seafood, nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds–essentially anything that can be hunted and gathered. (These can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, or cooked in any other simple, healthful manner.) Absent are cereal grains, rice, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar, vegetable oils, salt, processed foods, and even milk. “Wild animals cannot be milked,” says Cordain.

For hardcore paleo purists, even alcohol is verboten, while among its less ascetic followers, exceptions are made. The basic rule of thumb for paleo devotees: If hunter-gatherers (that is to say pre-10,000 B.C., the approximate date of the oldest discovered farm) didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.

Paleo Recipe Round Up


While the notion of eating only natural foods that appeared before man learned to process them has certain merit, the logic behind Paleolithic diets has been questioned. Can the caveman diet proponents’ main assertion–that, through farming, man added elements to his diet that he isn’t biochemically designed to consume–bear the weight of rigorous scientific scrutiny? Or are its advocates indulging in a bit of revisionist history?

Dr. Marlene Zuk, professor of biology at the University of California Riverside, and author of the upcoming book Paleofantasy: How the Pace of Evolution Affects Our Lives, shines a critical light on the notion that our forebears lived truer to our evolutionary birthright than we ourselves do.

“We don’t know exactly what early humans ate,” she says, “but their diet almost certainly included grains at least some of the time, and they also ate many different foods depending on where they lived and what time period you’re talking about.”

As for the paleo proponents who cite laws of evolutionary biology to support their system, Zuk counters, “The idea that humans haven’t had enough time since the advent of agriculture to evolve adaptations to new foods is false. People can evolve quickly–we’ve evolved the ability to digest milk after weaning in just 5,000 years, for example. Evolution hasn’t stopped for us any more than it’s stopped for other species.”

Yet even as Dr. Zuk has reservations regarding the genesis of these diets, she, too, sees value in them. “We just don’t need to hew to an imagined past to find out what works best for us,” she says.


So, just what kind of benefits can one expect from following a Paleolithic diet?

“Over the past five years, there have been four clinical trials conducted worldwide that have shown dramatic improvements for their subjects in a wide range of areas, from blood chemistry to fat loss,” says Dr. Cordain. “One of the unexpected benefits,” he says, “was the results we’ve seen in people with autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis.” As principles of The Paleo Diet have gained popularity worldwide, Cordain says he’s getting more and more anecdotal reports of near-miraculous health improvements. “For example,” he says, “I know of a middle-aged woman with alopecia whose hair grew back after adopting the Paleo Diet.”

That’s great, but can eating like a caveman make you as strong as one?

Paleo Diet 3


John Welbourn is caveman-strong. In fact, he’s a whole tribe of cavemen-strong. At 6’5″, 315 pounds, and only 11% body fat, the former NFL tackle recently squatted 600 pounds, benched 500, and deadlifted 700 in training while following his own variation of the paleo diet. Still, Welbourn says he continues to find it challenging to convince fellow strength athletes that nixing pasta, bread, and cereal grains from their diets won’t leave them in a listless heap halfway through their workouts.

“One of the biggest misconceptions people have about paleo eating is that it’s low-carb”, says Welbourn, who’s now the owner of CrossFit Balboa in Costa Mesa, CA, and cofounder of Paleo Brands, which markets prepared paleo-friendly foods. “Just because it doesn’t allow for things like bread and pasta doesn’t mean that it’s a ketogenic diet.”

If not from bread, pasta, cereal, and rice, how does this athlete fill his energy stores?

“You simply have to make better selections with your carb choices,” he explains. “Mine tend to come from starchy vegetables. Things like sweet potatoes and yams. Roots, tubers, and bulbs also fit in there.” Sweet potatoes and yams, however, don’t make the cut according to Cordain’s master food list (see “The Paleo Diet Food List” on page 164). Welbourn backs Cordain, saying “the paleo diet will work for 99% of people as is,” but strength athletes, he says, might want to make some adjustments.

One big reason muscle-seekers may need to veer off the strict paleo path derives from their need to create an insulin spike after a lifting session. Bodybuilders often drink carb-rich shakes and eat bread or white rice after a workout to force an insulin response that shuttles nutrients directly into the muscles, facilitating greater growth and faster recovery. Paleo dieters, however, say sugary fruits such as honeydew melon, cantaloupe, or watermelon work just as well. Watermelon is an especially good choice since it contains a good amount of citrulline, which boosts the body’s arginine and nitric oxide levels, widening the blood vessels and allowing even more protein and carbs to rush into the muscles.

For hard-gainers looking to put on mass, Welbourn recommends adding milk (preferably raw, although it’s hard to come by)–a traditional paleo no-no. Rich in protein and calories, milk and dairy foods can also create a potent insulin spike, and the whey protein in them is absorbed so quickly that it makes for a perfect post-workout meal. “One kid I was working with went from 165 pounds to 220 in 20 weeks following the paleo diet with a gallon of milk a day added in,” says Welbourn. “He also went from a 165-pound squat to 405 pounds during the same period.” If you want to keep strictly paleo, then go with egg whites, white tuna, or another white fish for protein after a tough session. Nevertheless, if you want to maximize your efforts in the gym, we suggest you take a break from paleo and have a whey protein shake.


If you’re ready to turn back the clock in your kitchen, take a look at a sample of what you can and can’t consume on the paleo diet below. Then make a commitment to stick with a paleo plan for a week. Most people who make the switch begin feeling changes, such as less bloating after meals, within a day or two, so a solid week of paleo should be enough to tell if it’s right for you.

You’ll likely find that it’s surprisingly challenging at first, even if you’re accustomed to preparing your meals and eating clean. Instinctively, you’ll grab for your container of oatmeal in the morning or brown rice for dinner, or you might feel the pull of a protein bar when you’re on the road. Resist temptation.

That said, you may want to consider going the John Welbourn route by adapting it to your specific needs if strict adherence to the paleo plan doesn’t fit your bill. You still can’t eat processed foods or grains, mind you, but if your goal is to be lean and muscular while keeping energy levels high, you might want to add yams and sweet potatoes. If you’re in an all-out bulking phase, supplementing with whole milk may do the trick. However, if you’re trying to either get lean or retain a current high level of conditioning, then the literal translation of the Paleolithic diet maybe just right for you.

 7 Tips for Eating Paleo While in College



* Omelet with ground turkey, avocado, and tomato; banana


* Fresh tuna; spinach sauteed in olive oil; apple


* Lean beef patty; broccoli with tomato slices; pear


* Homemade beef jerky; handful of nuts and berries


* Chicken breast; salad; bowl of spaghetti squash; handful of blueberries


* Wild Salmon; asparagus



– Lean beef (trimmed of visible fat)
– Lean veal
– Lean pork

POULTRY (white meat, skin removed):
– Chicken breast
– Turkey breast

EGGS (limit to six per week):
– Chicken (go for the enriched omega-3 variety)
– Duck
– Goose

– Rabbit (any cut)
– Goat (any cut)
– Organ meats
– Livers, tongues, and marrow from beef, lamb, and pork Game meat
– Fish
– Shellfish






– Olive, avocado, walnut, and flaxseed (use in moderation–4 tbsp or fewer a day when weight loss is your main goal)

WINE (two 4-oz glasses)



– No more than 2 oz a day, particularly if you’re trying to lose weight



– Including barley, corn, rice, oats, and wheat

– Amaranth
– Buckwheat
– Quinoa

– All beans
– Peanuts and peanut butter