It’s less than a week until my 5 year Paleo anniversary, and I’m counting the top Paleo lessons I’ve learned along the way. Check out Part 1 for some real talk about perfectionism, self-discovery and desserts.
Because I couldn’t resist the urge to make it five lessons for five years, here’s the conclusion.
Lesson #4: Eat to support your training.
I’ve already touched on this one briefly in Part 1, but it’s important enough to get its own space. Sports and competition have been a part of my life since I was a kid, and my adult years have seen me split my time between three main pursuits: mountain bike racing, CrossFit, and Olympic weightlifting.
Throughout my early twenties, I followed Weight Watchers because I thought I was too heavy, and then, closer to thirty, I was a (bad) vegetarian. Not only was I not doing these diet plans well—such as eating as much processed, sugary food as I could get away with—they weren’t supporting my athletic goals. I was constantly withholding calories and protein and not eating anywhere near enough fat.
Even once I started Paleo in 2010, I still had a lot to learn about proper carbohydrate intake. I was constantly too low and really underfed. After a long season of Xterra triathlon, I was at my lowest weight in a long time, but I was also depleted and weak. It wasn’t until a lot of self-education and some tinkering that I realized I needed to do Paleo better.
The outgrowth of that realization and the work I’ve done here on the site is the desire to help others like me who value being active, may want to compete, and want to use a Paleo platform to help them achieve their goals. It inspired me to write both of my books, The Paleo Athlete and The Performance Paleo Cookbook.
When you decide to hang your performance on a Paleo framework, it’s important to intake enough protein, carbohydrate and fat to support the above-normal output and repair the wear-and-tear your body is going through. What’s more, biasing your choices toward the most nutrient dense food possible a majority of the time will build the foundation of good health to help support that performance.
If your training frequency is high (think several days a week or multiple sessions a day) or your training volume is quite challenging, eating protein and glucose-based carbohydrate (like a starch or starchy vegetable) for post-workout will help you get a jump on recovery.
Take-away action: Poke around the website (here and here are good places to start), and do some reading about eating for performance. If you feel inclined to check out either one of my books, cool. If not, that’s okay too. Start with three meals a day (protein, carbs, and fat on each plate) and then start by adding a post-workout of protein and carb. Keep track of how you feel and how you’re performing / recovering. Give new changes at least two weeks to set in before you make another major change.
Lesson #5: It’s not just about food.
While food is an incredibly important component of lifelong health, it’s not the only one. Focusing on better eating at the expense of sleep, movement / exercise, and managing stress is doing yourself a disservice.
And while trying to get a handle on those things can be overwhelming, making small changes over time adds up. Remember, there’s a difference between discipline and perfection. Will you have times where sleep goes down the drain, you can’t get to the gym, and your life is super stressful? Yes, but hopefully that doesn’t represent your every single day for months and years.
One of my favorite websites for all-around health topics like sleep and managing stress is Whole9. Check them out.
Take-away action: Evaluate how well you’re sleeping, staying active, and dealing with stress. If you need to make change, make your goals small and manageable. Just saying, “I’ll sleep better this year,” isn’t actionable enough. “I’ll be asleep by 9:30 pm each night this week,” is much more specific. Find ways to keep yourself accountable, such as writing in a journal or having a buddy. You can do this. you CAN make change.