My Path To Performance 2.0

In my last nutrition-related blog I listed a fairly thorough history of my experience with food and the effect it has had on my health and performance. I closed that article praising the benefits of eating gluten free and noting how it’s improved my health and performance in my everyday life. (Here’s a link to that article: I still wholeheartedly believe in keeping gluten-containing foods off of the plate and I’ve continued to twist and tweak my diet learning even more in the process. Let me get right to it, picking up where my previous article left off.

After going gluten free I soon learned about eating Paleo and that was the next diet into which I dove mouth first. For those who haven’t heard of Paleo, it’s basically going gluten free and then some. The idea behind the diet is to eat like our “Paleolithic ancestors” did, cutting out all grains (corn, wheat, rice, etc.), legumes/beans, soy and dairy (and since I have yet to see a Paleo drive-thru restaurant, that means all fast food is out as well). The argument is that these types of foods are tougher for the human body to digest, cause inflammation, rob nutrients from the body, and can provoke allergic reactions. Eating Paleo basically simplifies your plate to consist of meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts and quality oils like olive, walnut, coconut, and avocado while omitting the standard vegetable oils (corn, canola, soy, etc.). With my recent (at the time) discovery of my sensitivity to gluten, cutting out more potential food allergens sounded like a good thing and it didn’t take long for me to fully commit to the “Paleo lifestyle”.

Over the next year I adhered quite strictly to the Paleo diet principals as I learned the importance of how my food had been raised/grown/processed, etc. and the effect that had on my body. One of the drums Paleo devotees pound the hardest is the organic produce drum, as it’s not only important to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, it’s also important to know how that plant was treated. For example, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are more prevalent than ever in today’s modern industrialized agriculture and can turn a perfectly healthy carrot, which would normally be benefitting your body, into a burden as it comes with the baggage of those lingering chemicals, causing stress on your body and health issues as they build up over time in your fat stores.

Another big issue that Paleo practitioners preach is the difference between conventionally raised livestock/seafood and their pastured/wild counterparts. This is probably the toughest part of the Paleo program to follow as the overwhelming majority of today’s meat is raised in in a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) -like manner. This means the animal is usually grain-fed, often to the detriment of the animal’s health, which is compounded by the fact that the animal is raised in confinement leading to unsanitary conditions and harming it’s health even further, cascading into a wave of antibiotics administered to the animal to keep it just alive enough to make it to slaughter. Not only is this bad for the animal, but also by the time the meat of the animal makes it to our plates it doesn’t even come close to resembling something that would be beneficial to our bodies, a few of the reasons as follows: the nutrient ratio in the meat is altered due to the unnatural diet of the animal, usually causing inflammation in the animal which is then passed on to us as we consume it; the meat is often laced with antibiotics which we then ingest, compounded by the residue of pesticides and the like that were on the animal’s feed and as a consequence now reside in the animal’s flesh (especially in the fatty tissues that we all love so much); and on top of that a lot of animals are unfortunate enough to have synthetic hormones injected into them so they age quicker and can be processed sooner, or in the case of dairy animals so they continually produce milk, all in the name of compassionless profit, the consequence being that we then ingest the remains of those hormones and chemicals in the animals meat/milk/eggs.

The counter to the conventionally raised livestock option is the free-range, grass-fed (for cows), and pastured versions where the animals are allowed to live a more natural lifestyle eating the foods they were born to eat and living in a much cleaner habitat. This yields healthier meat for consumption, but beyond that it’s also a more compassionate way to raise the animals; even if their being raised for consumption, that doesn’t mean the animal should be abused and neglected it’s whole life.

So to some up the diet in a bullet point style, it would go as follows:

  • Each meal is centered on meat and seafood from healthy pastured or wild animals.
  • Organic vegetables make up a large portion of each meal, in both raw and cooked forms.
  • Healthy oils like olive, walnut, coconut, avocado, etc. are a mainstay and complement each meal.
  • Fruits and nuts are a smaller part of the diet as the sugar content of some fruits and high Omega 6 fat content of some nuts can be undesirable.
  • Dairy is usually frowned upon (especially if your digestive system is sensitive), but some followers do consume organic dairy as a complement to their diet.
  • No grains or legumes of any kind, including but not limited to: wheat, oats, rice, barley, beans, peanuts and regular potatoes as well.
  • No processed foods, artificial sweeteners/ingredients, processed sugars, synthetic chemicals, etc. in the diet at all.

From personal experience with the Paleo diet I definitely consider myself a believer in its principals (for the most part). All of the positive differences I had experienced from going gluten free seemed to benefit further from eating Paleo: my energy levels continued to increase; I experienced smoother and easier digestion and less inflammation in my lower abdomen; my ankle that I severely injured years ago suffered from fewer arthritic flare ups; my face was continuing to clear up from the years of acne and acne scarring; and my performance in training and competing continued to improve. It was definitely another step in the right direction for me on a personal level and I feel there are principals in the diet that would benefit everyone’s mental and physical performance in their everyday life.

On a side note, it definitely can be more expensive to commit to a Paleo style of eating, as the government doesn’t subsidize the practices of raising healthier meats so buying organic, pastured/wild meat does cost more, but there are two rebuttals I’ll make to people who say they can’t afford it:

One, once you are eating healthier foods you don’t need to consume the quantity that you’ve most likely become accustomed to as your body is getting more nutrient dense foods and no processed (dead) food.

Two, based on the health benefits of adhering to a better diet, you’ll not only be more active and productive (which come with their own benefits), you’ll also be less likely to suffer from the chronic diseases our population has become so familiar with which means you won’t have the medical bills later in life. I realize this is a tough way to look at things as we’re all so focused on how we benefit in the right here and now, but it’s worth thinking about especially if you have/want kids and would like to have a long and fulfilling life for each of you.

With the furthering of the benefits I was feeling from cutting out potential food allergens and chemicals from my diet, I soon found I was becoming quite fascinated with digestive health and the role the gut has to play in physical and mental health. Rest assured, that will be the feature of my next article.

Robby Bell