Paleo Leaves You Powerless

Now that I’ve got your attention with some headline hyperbole, let me clarify. Paleo style eating, high fat and low carb, is a fine approach for the general public, and if even one-third of North American families adopted this eating method over the conventional diet heavy in trans fat and refined carbs, we’d have less disease and significantly lower medical expenses across the board.

But if you want a muscular fit look, and currently exercise at least 4+ times a week, you will definitely need more carbs than the average couch potato. There’s just a certain deflated look that comes from a low carb diet combined with exercise. I’ve been there myself. It got me lean, sure, but I look and feel better with carbs in my daily arsenal.

Now, if you struggle to consistently get to the gym, do little or no cardio a week, and just want to keep your bodyfat at reasonable levels, by all means utilize Paleo. It’s a great program for optimizing hormonal output (think testosterone), keeping fat gains to a minimum and preventing hypertension.

But, again, if you go to the gym at least four times per week, play a game or two of rec hockey here and there, and run sprints once or twice a week, your need for carbs is much higher than the dude who considers that 20 minute stroll with the dog his daily exercise routine.

For the young, naturally-lean individual who lives an active lifestyle, that can mean as much as two grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight on active days. That’s 360 grams for the 180 lb male, which divided over six meals = 60g of carbs (but I’d suggest as much as 100g carbs in the post-workout window following hard exercise, and approx. 50g per meal otherwise). Protein should come in at a minimum of 1g per pound of bodyweight, while unlike Paleo, fat intake should be low (at most .5g per pound of BW) since carbs are your main source of fuel here.

However, for the guy pushing 40 at a bodyfat less than optimal, carb intake should start at a gram per lb of bodyweight (180g carbs for the 180 lb male) and slowly increase if required. This individual should stick to Paleo style eating for meals that don’t coincide with exercise. For example, if you workout at 5 p.m., stick to Paleo meals for breakfast and lunch, and then sneak in a protein/carb shake before hitting the gym in the afternoon. Follow it up with a big meal of more protein and carbs after you’re done, before reverting back to Paleo before bed.

In my experience, carbs will help fuel your training sessions, you’ll recover better, your muscles will look fuller, and you’ll sleep better (carbs release serotonin). Try playing hockey without any carbs in your system and watch your performance fizzle out in the third period or earlier.

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.