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A Practical Approach to the Paleo Diet, Part 3

by Adam Farrah » on Jun 27, 2011 11

This is Part 3 in a 5 Part Series.  You can view the other parts here:  Part 1Part 2Part 4, and Part 5

In my last post about the Paleo diet here on, I started getting into the topic of individualizing Paleo and using the Paleo concept as a template to guide food choices as opposed to a rigid diet that you need to follow to the letter. I also introduced the concept of eating “old” foods in terms of technology and our evolution as opposed to strictly foods that were available during the Paleolithic Era.

This week, I’m going to give some solid examples of what some different Paleo diets could look like and include some details so you can see how the diets break down when you look at protein, carbs and fat.

Understanding Paleo Variations…

The following figures show a number of different variations on the Paleo diet theme. Figure 1 shows a “standard” Paleo diet that includes meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and some supplemental oils. Figure 2 shows an “Eskimo Style” Paleo diet that is higher in meat and fat and low in fruit. This is going to be a low carb diet and might be near ketogenic (like Atkins) depending on the vegetables and fruits chosen. Figure 3 shows a Paleo diet that includes brown rice and sweet potato or yams. This is a diet that would likely work well for a Paleo athlete with a higher carbohydrate requirement – particularly a more endurance-focused athlete.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

So, what’s your point?

The point of Figures 1 through 3 is twofold. First, I want to illustrate some varied diets that still fall under the Paleo heading. The second point I want to make is that the core diets in each figure are virtually identical. Even with some grains, cheat meals, more complex carbs or a low carb focus, the diets remain virtually identical at the core.

Carb Fueling vs. Fat Fueling…

The diets and meals that follow also raise the question of carbohydrate fueling vs. fat fueling. One of the supposed advantages of Paleo is that the lower carbs shift an athlete’s metabolism more toward using fat as fuel vs. glucose. In theory this is great and when a very low carb ketogenic diet is used this is exactly what happens. The advantages are increased fat loss as well as a nearly “unlimited” supply of fuel in the form of body fat vs. a limited amount of blood glucose.

As far as I can tell, some athletes will do better on a lower carbohydrate diet and will shift to fat fueling relatively easily. Others (like myself) will feel terrible on a very low carbohydrate diet and see a large performance decrease. I’ve spoken to athletes who feel great on very low carbohydrates and perform well on the type of diet in Figure 2. Others will suffer needlessly when carbs get too low and will do better on a diet with more carbs like the one in Figure 3.

I get more into making adjustments in carbs and fat and figuring out how best to fuel yourself in my book. For now, just understand that different people will feel better on different macronutrient (protein, carbs and fat) amounts and the major factor will be carbohydrate quantity and, to a lesser extent, carbohydrate quality.

It’s great to talk about burning body fat as a primary fuel and all the evils associated with carbohydrates. Often though, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and, in many cases, is completely dependent on the individual and the nearly infinite number of factors to do with that athlete.

The REAL point of all this

As far as I’m concerned, the point of Paleo – or any diet – isn’t to see how perfectly you can do the diet. The point is to build outstanding health and performance for yourself. If you find better health, performance and quality of life with a non-Paleo tweak here or there, that’s what you need to do. And if certain Paleo foods don’t work for you, don’t eat them.

The point isn’t to see how well you can do a static diet, the point is to create an effective, individualized and dynamic diet THAT WORKS FOR YOU PERSONALLY. I have no interest in making diet into a religion. And, truthfully, I don’t care who adopts this diet and lifestyle and who doesn’t. Not that it wouldn’t do the world a lot of good if everyone ate along these lines, I just know that not everyone is going to go Paleo or near Paleo, eat organic, local, etc.

The point is, let’s get to what works and what builds health…


I hope the examples and discussion above has been helpful in getting you to think about Paleo in a different way. There are a number of different ways you can do a Paleo diet and there are even more ways you can incorporate some of the basic principles into how you’re eating now – whether it’s to transition to Paleo later or just to make your current diet work better for you.

Next week, I’ll come full circle and present some of the main advantages to adopting a Paleo diet and lifestyle.

You can read part 4 in this series here.


Submitted Comments

  1. Dan says:

    I’m really interested in both the structures of figure 2 and figure 3. Is it ok to start with one and then slowly transition to another? For example, I think to loose body fat as I increase my training effort I’d like to start with figure 2’s balance and then as I increase my daily work-outs/runs move to figure 3 and add in some “old” carbs.

  2. Adam Farrah says:

    Definitely, Dan! It’s a very good way to do it because you’ll be able to evaluate the effects of adding in the carbs – particularly if you go for some grain-based carbs.

    Often, people don’t realize they have a sensitivity to high carbs or gains until they go without for a while and then add them back in. Going from 2 to 3 will give you a “clean slate” you can use to evaluate the effects of carbohydrate sources and quantities.

    Just make sure and keep a food journal and add in ONE new carb source at a time and evaluate it before moving on to others. The same goes for increasing carbs. Increase them slowly and evaluate the effects on mood, training, etc.


  3. Julia says:

    Hi Adam,

    I really like your posts .. I’m not quite ready to start a complete switch over but I’d say your articles, along with material like Omnivore’s Dilemma, are getting me to gradually start making better and more natural eating choices.

    I have a question about the paleo classifications: where does red wine fit in?


  4. Adam Farrah says:

    Hey Julia! Glad you’re liking the posts! :-)

    Technically, wine is alcohol and high in carbs/sugar besides. There are different qualities of wine as well. Something more “artisan” in nature and organic is likely better for you than the “wine box” you get at the supermarket LOL

    All that said, while I don’t drink at this time, my girlfriend really enjoys an occasional glass of wine or NorCal margarita once in a while and she’s very health conscious.

    For both of us, it’s a matter of what we tolerate. I feel awful the morning after when I have even a single drink, but she does well on one or two drinks once in a while.

    Your body will tell you what’s appropriate if you learn to listen.


  5. Martha says:

    Twice I have gone strict paleo with little fruit/very low carbs, and both times after two weeks eating squeaky clean I’ve seen a decrease in performance AND mild depression. Is two weeks long enough to determine that I need yams, some milk, etc. or should I wait longer for my body to transition to burning primarily fats for fuel? During my strict phase a tylocal days meals were three eggs in evoo with a small piece of fruit for breakfast, 4-5 oz grassfed beef or chicken with lots of leafy greens, raw veggies, and evoo vinaigrette for lunch, and 4-5 oz meat or fish with two servings roasted vegetables for dinner along with an avocado or handful of almonds and maybe a spoonful of coconut oil. Thanks!

  6. Adam Farrah says:

    Two weeks isn’t much after a lifetime of something other than Paleo. I’d say at least a month and maybe two to really evaluate what’s going on. Then add one thing at a time so you can figure out what works and what doesn’t.


  7. Martha says:

    Thanks Adam. I didn’t explain that before going strict Paleo, I had eaten a probably 90% primal diet only rarely having legumes, grains or sugar. I did have lots of dairy with my meats, seafood, veggies, fruits, nuts and good fats. No wheat for the last five montes, and no potatoes or rice. I felt good eating that diet, but I eliminated all dairy, grains, legumes, and sugar three weeks ago. After two weeks I became depressed and stayed that way until I put back a little bit of milk, and the occasional sweet potatoes snd bananas. Very similar experience last February. Am I likely to be a person who needs a few more carbs, or do you still think I didn’t give it long enough? The depression was hard to tolerate. Thanks, Adam.

  8. Martha says:

    P.S. I have discovered that I have sensitivity to gluten so that’s gone forever. One bite causes stomach ache and carpal tunnel symptoms to flare up.

  9. Adam Farrah says:


    The usual rule is that if you’re gluten sensitive, you’re dairy sensitive and vice versa. I can’t say for sure that you should give up dairy, but around 30 days is usually the minimum to be able to tell how you react when you reintroduce it..


  10. Mel says:

    Thanks for such a well balanced article with no ‘ulterior motives’. Refreshing and encouraging!

  11. Adam Farrah says:

    So glad you liked it, Mel!

    If you liked this series I think you’ll LOVE my new book that’s due out in November. Yes, that was a shameless plug for my book! :-)

    It’s on amazon for pre-order. Check it out if you’d like:

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