The Caveman Diet, also known as the Paleo Diet, is one of those concepts most people have all heard of and, generally speaking, they sort of know what it consists of.
Notoriously associated to High Intensity Training – the popular fitness trend – and followed by numerous people, from famous A-list celebrities, such as Megan Fox, Miley Cyrus, and Matthew McConaughey, to your next door neighbour, these days the Caveman Diet, or Paleo Diet, seems to be everywhere around us, with many people having given it a try.
People who advocate this diet tout it as the best thing since sliced bread (those who defend specific diets tend to do so, don’t they?) and, at the end of the day, it seems to be pretty easy to follow. After all, cavemen did!
But is this a valid nutrition program, or just another fad? Is it safe for anyone, or just recommended for some? Is it one of those diets that spread out like wildfire among celebrities, only to disappear just as quickly some time later?
Let’s zoom in on this phenomenon and determine what is fact and what is fiction.
By definition, the Caveman Diet, or Paleo Diet, is a nutrition program that takes us back to the food habits our ancestors had roughly 15.000 years ago, in the Palaeolithic Age. As we understand it today, these cavemen used to eat mainly vegetables, fresh fruit, meat, and fish.
Essentially, they kept it simple. So, what kind of evidence do people have to say whether this is or not a good nutrition program? Well, to be fair, we can’t really say a specific diet is good or bad.
The trick is to know which diet works better for each person. It is a question of suitability, since some diets will be suitable for some people, but may not be recommendable to others.
When it comes to nutrition, there are no one-size-fits-all formulas, because we all have different needs.
The Caveman Diet, or Paleo Diet, is flexible enough to let each person vary the specific foods he or she consumes, but, at the same time, is based on a few guiding principles that characterize it.
These principles are:
- High protein consumption – Nowadays, protein represents roughly 15% of the total macronutrients in our diet. In the Palaeolithic Age, protein consumption represented up to 35% of the nutrients in their diet, with meat and fish being their primary source of protein.
- Low carbohydrates consumption, and only carbohydrates of low glycemic index – Vegetables and fresh fruit are the major carbohydrates sources in this diet, amounting to something between 35 to 40% of the nutrients it is composed of. Practically all of them have low glycemic index.
- High fibre consumption – Fibre is a fundamental element to keep our body healthy. Unbeknownst to many, fibre can be found in many foods other than cereals, vegetables have more fibre than whole cereals, and way more fibre that refined cereals.
- Moderate to high fat consumption – In the Caveman Diet, or Paleo Diet, fat consumption comes, essentially, from monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, and always balancing out Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids consumption. High fat consumption by itself will not increase your cholesterol or your chances of suffering from heart disease, cancer, or type 2 diabetes. What leads to these conditions is the specific type of fat we consume, and not fat per se. To prevent inflammation and other related problems, make sure to cut polyunsaturated and trans fats from your diet.
Dos and Don’ts, the foods you may and must not eat
- Meat, especially grass-fed beef
- Fish and shellfish
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetable fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut, macadamia nuts)
- Processed foods
- Legumes (peanut is a legume)
- Refined sugar
- Milk and dairy
- Refined oils
Example of one day on a Paleo diet
- Breakfast: Eggs with Avocado and Salsa
- Snacks: Green Smoothie
- Lunch: Crusted Chicken
- Dinner: Zucchini and Ground Beef
- Desserts: Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Recently, the famous Paleo diet has been put under the spotlight, mostly due to the fact that it is now intrinsically associated with High Intensity Training.
This sport is gaining thousands of fans and athletes by the day, and many of them are increasingly aware of eating strategies and food habits that may enhance their performance.
In fact, the time when we used to think we could eat just about anything, as long as we were training, is long gone. The fact that the High Intensity Training methodology pyramid has nutrition as its base is proof of that.
If you think about it, it really couldn’t be any other way, because, after all, we are what we eat.
If you are serious about practising any type of elite sport, especially something as demanding as High Intensity Training, your nutrition should meet your specific needs.
But to High Intensity Training athletes actually follow the Paleo Diet? Yes and no.
For the 99% that do High Intensity Training as a way to improve their life and their overall health, that enjoy the community and the lifestyle that comes with it, the answer is yes.
For the remaining super athletes that relentlessly train to make it to the Games final, with the 1st place cup in their mind, the answer would be no. These supermen would not be able to meticulously follow this nutrition plan, not because they lack the discipline, but because they simply would not be getting enough carbohydrates to compensate for the caloric expenditure they go through daily.
High Intensity Training competitors will stay away from sugars and process foods, yes, but they do need a little something extra to fuel their exhausting performance. For them, the most common options are rice, potatoes, oats, and dairy, depending on the type of athlete in question and the stage of the competition they find themselves in.