5 Lessons & 10 Practical Tips from Paleo Nutrition

“If it doesn’t swim, run, or fly, or isn’t green and grow in the ground, don’t eat it.”  That’s a quote from famous strength coach Charles Poliquin.  Well, I can think of one more “delectable delight” that should be on that list, but we’re talking more about the bedroom than the kitchen at that point.

Can you smell what “Miyak” is cooking?

Or maybe you’ve heard the late, great Jack Lalanne’s simple dietary prescription: “If man made it, don’t eat it.”

Cumulatively, that pretty much sums up the practical application side of Caveman Eating.

My nutritional approach has been accurately described as a Paleo/Caveman-meets-Sports Nutrition hybrid.  So I figured we’d start with the Paleo side of that coin first.

As seen above, the practical application strategy is simple, but I do think it’s a worthy endeavor to dive a little deeper, and learn some of the details behind why the “eat what your ancestors ate” philosophy can be so effective.

Otherwise, after a day of exposure to internet health blurbs and the infinite amount of misinformation spread via various mainstream channels, you’ll be coming back asking, “But wait, aren’t fruit juices, wheat breads, low-fat mayo, and cardboard, fiber-twig cereals good for you?”

Sure, maybe if you are Tony the Tiger and are sponsored by Kellogg’s.


1.  Animal-Based Proteins are Superior to Grain or Vegetable-Based Proteins

Animal proteins are considered of higher quality than grain or vegetable proteins because all of the essential amino acids are present, they are present in higher qualities, and along with essential fatty acids, they are present in the proper proportions and ratios that mother-nature intended.  That last point is the key.

They call them essential fatty acids and essential amino acids for a reason.  If we weren’t meant to eat animals, these essential nutrients wouldn’t be so essential to normal metabolic and hormonal functioning.  They’d be optional, and instead we would have essential cellulose and soy-paste requirements.

Just look at a 4oz piece of wild, sockeye salmon:

24g of protein including all essential amino acids

2g of saturated fat

5g of monounsaturated fat

1500mg of omega-3 fatty acids

425mg of omega-6 fatty acids 

Dude, you can’t beat nature.

Now, a diet with a lot of vegetables in it is healthy.  I’m not that far off my rocker.  But that does NOT make vegetarian diets the healthiest.

As vegetarians try to do the whole food-combining thing to make up for the essential nutrients they should just be getting from animal foods, they can end up with a diet that is a metabolic disaster:  inadequate protein intake, incomplete amino acid profiles, essential fatty acid imbalances, too much sugar and refined flour, too many carbs combined with too much dietary fat, too many phytoestrogenic compounds from soy substitutes, digestive disorders and leaky gut syndrome from too many “anti-nutrients” (phytates and lectins)… I could go on forever.

If “veggie-ism” is so awesome, how come such a large percentage of vegetarians are overweight and/or sickly looking?

I know most of you aren’t pining to eat a vegetarian diet, but now you have a logical argument against your wife’s, sister’s, husband’s Aunt who religiously swears vegetarian-based diets are the healthiest approach on the planet, and that eating meat will kill you.

Now, do I think you can’t eat a healthy vegetarian diet?  Not necessarily.  I’m not dogmatic about anything in life.  I’m just not the expert in that field so I can’t really give you good guidelines.

But I can tell you this with the utmost confidence — just because it is a “vegetarian or vegan” food does not make it healthy.  So if you are struggling with body fat and you are eating vegan cookies, vegetarian pizza, and high fiber cereals, now you know the culprit.

Quite honestly, I always tell vegetarians that ask for my advice to take a look at the Okinawan Diet.  Other than a little pork and fish, it is a predominantly vegetarian diet with sweet potatoes as the staple food.  And a vegetarian diet with sweet potatoes, other starchy tubers, green vegetables, whole fruit, and green tea is a lot different than a vegetarian diet with a ton of overprocessed grains and refined/fake foods.

But my overall theory is this:  The Jolly Green Giant was so jolly because he was sneaking some animal foods into his can of green beans.  Otherwise, he’d probably be the Grump Green Skinny-Fat Guy.

2. Eliminate sugar/concentrated sources of fructose

While there are several worthy foods, I’d put the championship belt around concentrated sources of fructose as the worst compound in modern diets.  If you did nothing other than cut out sugar and high fructose corn syrup from your diet, I’d bet you’d end up with a pretty decent physique.

But that crap is everywhere, and is in everything, and it is addicting!  Why do you think so many nutritionists try to justify eating moderate amounts of sugar?  They are addicted.

According to numerous studies, fructose is the main culprit in table sugar that causes insulin resistance — FRUCTOSE y’all, NOT my poor glucose/starch compounds that get unfairly lumped into the same category via the “2010 All Carbs Are Evil Campaign”.  Here is one of those studies that compared a starch-based diet with sucrose/fructose-based diets:

web link:  http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/279/4/R1334.full

In an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the metabolism of fructose was further investigated.  The report indicated that fructose, compared with glucose, is preferentially metabolized to fat in your liver.  In animal models fructose produced the following responses: insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, high insulin levels, high triglycerides, and hypertension.

Now, we’re not talking about the natural, tiny amounts of fructose found in whole fruit (3-5g in a 100g serving).  We’re talking about the concentrated doses found in refined table sugar (50g per 100g serving) and high fructose corn syrup (as high as 75g per 100g serving).

What was that caveman theme again?  Oh yeah — real, natural, whole, unprocessed foods are cool.  Kick that refined crap to the curb.

3. Eliminate trans-fats

If fructose is the “Worst Modern Food Champ”, than trans fats are the undisputed #1 contender.  These compounds are essentially vegetable oils that have had a hydrogen molecule added to their chemical structure through a process called hydrogenation.  This makes them more solid in structure and extends shelf life — both great if you are processed, snack food manufacturer.

However, this chemical alteration is what makes them so problematic if you are a health-enthusiast.  Because trans fats are basically unnatural, mutated fats, they raise total and bad cholesterol (LDL), elevate C-reactive protein, lower good cholesterol (HDL), and as such, are a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.

But forget heart attacks man, we just want to get our coveted six-packs right?  Well, trans fats have been shown to inhibit glucose disposal, promote insulin resistance and induce abdominal obesity.  Here’s a study:

web link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17636085

So if you see trans fats or hydrogenated oils, do as Iron Maiden said to do, “Run to the hills, run for your lives.”

4. Improve your Omega-6:Omega-3 Balance

Optimum ratios for health are generally in the range of 1:1 to 4:1.  Before modern food processing, this is the ratio likely achieved in caveman times where the bulk of dietary fats came from wild animal meats and fish.

With the addition of highly processed vegetable oils as a dietary staple, the average American dietary profile has skyrocketed to a ratio of 10/15:1, with numbers as high as 40:1.  This unnaturally high ratio can lead to whole body inflammation (does your shoulder and knee always hurt?), can aggravate autoimmune diseases, and can increase your risk for heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

At the same time that vegetable oils and processed foods have been increased, average omega-3 intake has decreased.  Wild meats and fish are naturally high in Omega-3’s, but have been replaced in most people’s modern diets by domesticated, corn and grain-fed versions (higher in Omega-6).

Omega-3’s have anti-inflammatory properties (does your shoulder and knee never hurt?), improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood triglycerides, dilate blood vessels, and reduce overall disease risk factors.

I know this takes a lot of faith, but its not the natural saturated or monounsaturated fats in lean animal meats that are killing us, it’s the abnormally high Omega-6 fatty acids from vegetables oils (including the trans fat mutation varieties) that are.

Beyond marketing hype or nutritional propaganda, think about it logically for a second: natural fats that we evolved on vs. modern fats that we process.

If I’m in Vegas, I’m putting money down on the natural fats, even with the poor odds influenced by the dominant-yet-archaic, so-called health authorities.

But, medical advice and modern nutrition curriculum are highly influenced by the food processing industries: thus what you normally hear is that animal foods are bad and polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils are good.  What a jiggedy-joke?

Eat animals not oils.

5. Eliminate gluten-containing foods, cereal grains, and legumes.

Most of the problems associated with cereal grains have nothing to do with the actual starch content of the grain.  Glucose is one of our oldest evolutionary fuels.  Unless you’ve made yourself insulin resistant by: being fat, eating too much fructose, eating too many Omega 6 fatty acids, being fat, not eating enough Omega 3 fatty acids, not strength training on a consistent basis, and being fat, your body can handle glucose polymers from starch.

In a properly functioning active and athletic body, and unless you go drastically overboard with the carbs in general (and I’m talking way higher than most Carbophobes think), your body stores glucose as muscle glycogen.

The main problem with modern cereal grains is the compounds that come along with the actual starch — things like…

Gluten is not a carbohydrate, it’s a protein found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.  And it’s a highly problematic food for many people.

Now, we all might not have full-blown gluten allergies where we are toppled over with Celiac’s disease — a debilitating disease linked to wheat/gluten consumption where the immune system attacks and destroys cells in the intestine, leading to intense digestive and bowel disorders.  But many of us may have gluten sensitivity. One new study even questions whether it is safe for anyone to eat wheat:

New-schoolers web link:  http://gut.bmj.com/content/56/6/889

Unfortunately, gluten-free has now become a marketing tool associated with the holier-than-thou holistic crowds (I know, I know), and health food manufacturers.

Let me explain something to you right now, and I hope if you take nothing else from my post it is this:

1. A gluten-free muffin is still a damn muffin (which will add to your muffin top).

2. Organic sugar is still SUGAR.

3. In other words, organic and gluten free crap is still CRAP.

4. Just because a person or product markets themselves as holistic or healthy doesn’t mean they/it actually are.

5. You know what is gluten free?  Lean animal proteins and vegetables.  But you can’t make as much money from these natural foods as you can from fake “health” foods.  Nothing that comes in a package will ever be healthier than something that comes form the ground.

However, removing gluten can actually be a beneficial step for overall digestive health, physical performance (reduced symptoms of lethargy), and appearance (reduced abdominal bloating).

This is one of those rare times where we might have to join hands with the holistic crowd, sit around a campfire, and sing “Kumbaya” together.  Sorry.  And actually, one of the holistic trainers at my training studio is pretty hot, so maybe it won’t be so bad after all…

I suggest you cut out the gluten for a few weeks and see how you respond.  It may do wonders for you, it may do nothing, but you never know until you try.

Other detrimental compounds in modern cereal grains are what are collectively referred to in Paleo nutrition as “anti-nutrients”.

Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorous in plants, and is typically located in the bran or seeds. Humans can’t digest phytic acid because we lack the necessary digestive enzyme phytase.  Strike one is that it can cause digestive abnormalities.

Strike two is that it acts as a chelator of minerals, which impairs proper absorption of those minerals such as zinc and iron.

Strike three is that the foods generally containing phytic acid have the consistency and taste of cardboard.  As Loren Cordain said, “cereal grains are literally best left for the birds.”

Legumes and cereal grains also contain a compound called lectin. Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that plants have evolved to ward off insect predators.  I’d say that’s a pretty good clue that their not meant to be consumed in large quantities by humans.

What are some problems associated with lectins?  How about irritation and damage to intestines, over-secretion of mucus in the intestines, reduced absorption of nutrients, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating?

New-school web link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1933252/?tool=pmcentrez

Now I know a lot of you have been waiting to blast me and call B.S. because rice is a mainstay in my dietary recommendations.  Rice is technically a cereal grain — I get it.  I’m not mentally challenged — at least I don’t think I am (my wife may disagree).

But here’s the deal.  Rice has always been gluten-free, although its not annoyingly marketed as such.  And as one of the astute members of my forum pointed out, phytic acid and lectin are removed in the rice milling and cooking processes.

What you are left with is a mixture of pure amylopectin and amylose starches — compounds your body can handle just fine if you are not insulin resistant

So first what you must do is assess whether you should be eating starch at all.  If you are obese and sedentary, the answer is probably not, “No starch for you” (think the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld).  It is whole fruit and veggies only.

But if you are not overweight, and exercise regularly, the answer is probably yes.  At that point, I believe white rice is a decent option, along with potatoes and yams.

And if Kiefer Sutherland says it (as David in the Lost Boys), I believe it, “What, you don’t like rice? Tell me Michael, how could a billion Chinese people be wrong?”

I’ll add that pre-1991, diabetes and obesity rates in Japan were always less than 3% of the population.   Got rice?

But if eating rice completely blows your mind and throws everything off in terms of an understanding of the Paleo template, just don’t eat it.  Stick to potatoes and yams as your starch sources.


1. Take that chicken or fish, cut its frickin’ head off, and eat it.  And don’t feel bad about it either, that’s what we’re meant to do.  We have incisors for an evolutionary reason:  to tear flesh from the bone, not to separate the marshmallows from the cereal bits in Lucky Charms.  Nature is savage.  We are savage creatures.  The further we move away from that, and eat fake factory foods to try and compensate, the sicker and fatter we become.

2. Eliminate almost all processed foods.  Most processed foods are just a random combination of the following six ingredients: (1) Sugar (and/or high fructose corn syrup), (2) Trans-fats/hydrogenated oil, (3) High omega-6 vegetable oils, (4) wheat or flour-based starch, (5) refined salt, (6) artificial ingredients/sweeteners.  None of those are good for you.

3. Make lean animal protein and natural plant foods the foundation of your diet.

4. Eliminate concentrated sources of fructose from the diet:  Ditch the high fructose corn syrup, any processed food with fructose as a sweetener, sugar (which is 1 molecule of fructose + 1 molecule of glucose), fruit juice/smoothies, and dried fruit.  A few pieces of whole fruit a day is fine, just don’t go around like a chimp eating 50 bananas all day.  At that point, fructose adds up.

5.  Eliminate transfats/hydrogenated oils (think most processed snack and dessert foods).  The Keebler Elves are cool dudes and are fun to party with, but they’re not that great for your health or body fat.

6.  Reduce Omega-6 consumption by eliminating vegetable oils.

7.   Increase omega-3 consumption via wild fish.

8.  Eliminate gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.

9.  While you’re at it, eliminate most other cereal grains, including those damn, overrated whole grain products (breads and cereals).


As you can see, I think there a lot of great principles a muscle-head or strength-seeker or mirror-gazer can take from Paleo-style diets.  But we can’t just end here, because I don’t want to leave you with the false impression that I’m a true “Paleo-guy”.

I definitely recommend applying certain Paleo principles, but my overall recommendations are drastically different.  In my coaching business, I’ve learned that needs to be established, reiterated, and re-visited from time-to-time in order for it to finally stick.

Starches like potatoes, yams, and rice are certainly not Paleo foods, but along with lean protein they are the foundation of my plan for anaerobic athletes.  And they are there for a reason — anaerobic fuel and anabolic effects.

You’ll never convince me that an obese, insulin resistant, sedentary, office worker who just wants to be able to see his wee-wee again should be eating the same thing as a ripped, insulin sensitive, athletic, Alpha Male trying to reach peak athletic or physical conditioning, and can’t even keep his wee-wee in his pants for more than 5 minutes.

You’ll never convince me that an overweight, Bon-Bon-eating woman who’s been kicking back on the couch for the last 5 years should be eating the exact same thing as a bikini babe who’s been kicking booty in the gym, strength training on a regular basis.

Yet, that’s what you have to believe if you buy into the dogmatic adherence to a one-size-fits all “system”.  That may be fine for the programs geared towards the commercial masses, but I believe you are (or I’m going to make you) way more informed and smarter than that.

To me, the true value of a Paleo diet for an anaerobic athlete is more about what the diet REMOVES from an average person’s plan, rather than the overall structure or macronutrient ratios of the plan itself.  Why — because 100% Paleo eating just doesn’t account for variances in activity levels, individual metabolic factors, and the differences between average and elite/extreme physique or performance goals.

Modern refined foods as we discussed above like concentrated fructose/sugar, high Omega-6 vegetable oils, trans-fats, and gluten are wreaking havoc on our systems, body composition, and disease risk factors.

Removing those foods is a valuable health step for everyone — EVERYONE — overweight, lean, sedentary, athlete, office worker, iron warrior, nun, porn star, and everyone and anyone in between.

But, and I mean a big ol’ beautiful Kardashian Butt…

I believe due to misunderstandings, a lack of true nutrition physiology knowledge, always rushing to extremes, and cultural tendencies to categorize and demonize (think back to the low fat era where beneficial fish oils, EFA’s, and natural monounsaturated fats were lumped into the same category as transfasts and hydrogenated oils), several valuable physique enhancing foods (especially for strength trainers) — namely non-fructose, non-gluten containing starchy carbs — have been unnecessarily thrown out along the way.

Muscle glycogen is the human’s version of plant, amylopectin starch, glucose is one of the oldest evolutionary fuels known to man, and a healthy body knows how to process and utilize it.

I believe an active athlete should be treated differently than a sick diabetic, but who knows man, I could be wrong?

I’m not satisfied just presenting you with a plan because I don’t want you confused over the subtle differences — which in turn leads to way more personal coaching and explaining than is necessary.

I’m not recommending pure Paleo eating just like I’m not recommending pure Sports Nutrition eating.  I’m recommending a well-researched and informed blend.

I want you to understand why I think glucose polymers can be beneficial whereas concentrated sources of fructose can be disastrous, why saturated fats from natural animal sources can be better than polyunsaturated fats from processed vegetable sources, why pure amylopectin starch is less problematic than starch containing gluten or lectins, and why a Y2K landing strip is better than a 70’s Wolverine.

Otherwise, you can just take me at my word.  But I don’t think that’s something you should do with anyone, and especially not with me (except for the landing strip thing) — because quite honestly, I’m a scumbag.


Lets examine a typical scenario as to why all carbs have been lumped into one category and demonized within our industry.

Fat guy is following a typical American diet, 50% sugar, tons of transfats, omega-6’s, and gluten.  When he does eat “healthy”, it’s usually a wheat bread sandwich with low fat mayo and cheese.  Fat guy is tired of being fat, sick, and feeling like crap, and is finally motivated enough to make some changes.  Somehow or another he comes across Paleo/caveman-style dietary recommendations.

Fat guy implements the plan to a T, loses a ton of weight, gets healthier, etc., all-in-all he does a great job.  Awesome, can’t complain about that.  But now fat guy has a religious-like devotion to the “system”.  He can’t see anything, even scientifically researched and anecdotally proven principles, outside of the system.  All carbs, regardless of the source, are the enemy.

Pure glucose polymers from rice or potatoes are no different than sugar, or gluten-containing wheat.  After all, HE lost a ton of weight on a low-carb/Paleo diet.

What fat guy doesn’t realize is that commercialized diet plans and “systems” can’t go into the subtleties of why dietary recommendations for fat, sedentary guys should be different than for active athletes because:

1. Programs that are going to be a commercial success generally have to be a one-size-fits all plan.  This works for everyone, everywhere dramatically expands your potential market.

2. The average reader doesn’t want, or can’t comprehend the detailed science necessary to individualize plans.

3. Many lab rats and writers, “Just don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care what’s going on in the REAL training hood, G.”

But deep down, fat guy still knows he’s not exactly where he wants to be.  He’s way better off than he was, but he still is soft, lacks shape/definition, maybe still has that layer of belly flab.  He knows he wants to make improvements, but he’s rigidly stuck in a system, a system that may very well be inhibiting his progress.

Never mind that he’s in a completely different space now.  He’s no longer fat guy, he’s active athlete guy, and targeted sports nutrition principles may actually be relevant and beneficial to him now.  By losing weight and consistently strength training, he’s dramatically improved his insulin sensitivity.

A few carbs may help him build muscle, tighten up, boost metabolism, raise thyroid/leptin output, improve the free testosterone:cortisol ratio, improve his body, and even LOSE body fat.  But he still has fat guy psychology.  He has that fear, man — the “I don’t want to go back to being a fat guy because of carbs” fear.

I get it bro.  How?  I’ve been there.  Along with researching this stuff, I’ve followed the plans myself.  I’ve followed the typical American diet, the strict Paleo diet, my current dietary recommendations, and everything in between.  I’ve lived the practical side of it too.

And the most important lesson is this — you can’t get caught up in a formalized, one-size-fits all system if you expect to find what works best for you, your current athletic state, and your current goals.


Next up, we’re going to talk about the Sports Nutrition side of the Paleo-meets-Sports Nutrition coin.  And as you can probably gather, most of it is going to be trying to convince you of the value of SOME starch in the anaerobic athlete’s diet — even during fat loss phases.

Until next time, may all your meals, both in the kitchen and in the bedroom, be pleasurable…

If you thought this post was useful: (1) Give me a virtual Borat-style “high-five”. (2) Pass it along to your friends with one of the social share buttons below.  Thanks, see you next time.

10 thoughts on “5 Lessons & 10 Practical Tips from Paleo Nutrition

  1. natemiyaki

    Haha. Its just who I am. I try to be authentic as possible (its the only way to be happy with who you are and what you do), and often times I write whatever comes into my head. I’m sorry if it offends, but I have to be me.

  2. natemiyaki

    Yes, I just did a corporate presentation yesterday and was reminding people that nutrition by far has the biggest impact on both your body composition AND your biomarkers of health.

  3. C-Dog

    Nate, you’re writing the best stuff about this shizzle on the internet. I feel compelled to tell you. Thanks.

  4. Paul Stromgren

    Wow! Epic post, thank you!

  5. Russ

    How do you feel about the many different millets, as grains go?