The Paleo Diet And Bodybuilding

Paleo diet news and bodybuilding No matter how many people try t

o make the Paleo Template a “one size fits all” type of deal, there are always exceptions to the rule. Although Paleo certainly isn’t a low-carb protocol by default, many people seem to believe that low-carb Paleo is the more historically correct way to go, which eliminates almost all fruits, and starchy tubers along with the standard Paleo avoidances. The precise mechanism isn’t quite clear as of yet, because of incomplete science, and confounding variables, but there’s no doubt that low-carb Paleo produces a pretty consistent rate of weight loss for most people. But what about the Paleo Diet and Bodybuilding?

In my opinion, maintaining a low-carb or ketogenic diet provides multiple very helpful metabolic benefits that are not limited simply to weight loss, but there are also a few negatives that come along with it. One such problem is a diminished ability to build muscle. No matter how much some people try to discredit the necessity of carbohydrates in our diet, it’s a simple fact that building muscle is a heck of a lot easier when carbs are in the picture.

I found a great little article on-line, written by Tom Venuto author of “Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle”. The article entitled “Does the paleo diet work, or is it just another low carb diet fad?”, is actually more about the fact that standard Paleo isn’t the perfect Bodybuilding diet….

What’s the Paleo Flaw?

By all means, we should be eating more unprocessed foods, similar to the way our ancestors ate. Frankly I don’t think we have to dive into anthropological theory or research to draw the conclusion that hunter-gatherer diets are healthier than twinkies and Coke - that’s common sense isnt it?

My only major constructive criticism is that some of these paleo programs not only recommend removal of all kinds of grains and starches (and even dairy, which is a SUPERB source of high quality muscle-building proteins), they outright condemn them as inherently bad, in an absolutist fashion.

Why? well, they claim that agriculture arrived on the scene only 10,000 or so years ago, so any foods produced as a result of the modern agricultural system should also be on the “banned” list because our bodies aren’t genetically engineered to consume them.

The truth is, there are some starchy carbohydrates and grains which are very minimally processed or completely unprocessed.

Furthermore, some people can metabolically handle starches and grains just fine, while others cannot (many obese sedentary individuals are likely to have metabolic syndrome and not handle concentrated carbs very well, even natural ones).”

“For one thing, I’m not sure if anyone knows EXACTLY how our ancestors ate, but I’m pretty certain that it depended a lot on the culture, climate and geography. Therefore, the amount of carbs eaten could have varied quite a bit, so I don’t think there is just ONE type of paleo diet.

What all paleolithic diets would have had in common is the absence of processed and refined foods. The foods were natural; whether they were proteins, fats OR carbs.

Of course, the carb intake wouldn’t be very high, since there would be no refined sugar or processed carbs. But even according to Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, a “paleo” diet could be as high as 40% in carbs, a far cry from many of the low carb diets today (which condemn all carbs to the point of even putting restrictions on fruits and veggies to meet some arbitrary carbohydrate gram limit).”

Should all grains and starches be completely avoided?

There is a HUGE difference between natural starches and grains and refined starches and grains.

For example, look at white flour cereal grains versus old fashioned rolled or steel-cut unsweetened oatmeal - a body- building STAPLE. How can someone lump those together into the same category?

They are no where near the same, yet there are Paleo (and low carb) advocates who dogmatically cling to the notion that NO ONE should EVER be eating grains or natural carbs like oatmeal and brown rice.

Almost every bodybuilder I know eats oatmeal for breakfast plus lots of rice, sweet potatoes and other natural carbs. They are the

leanest muscular athletes on earth, and the ones who do it naturally, like I do, are among the healthiest as well. If there’s some kind of cause-effect relationship between all starches and grains and obesity, independent of calories and activity/training level, how do you

explain that?

Certainly, many people need to avoid gluten and lactose, but not everyone is intolerant.

Furthermore, what about biochemical individuality? Is there really one perfect diet suited to every human being or do we vary depending on:

1. your metabolic/body type

2. your current body composition (fat or lean)

3. your genetic predispositions

4. your current state of health

5. your goals; fat loss, muscle growth, athletic performance

In particular, for endurance athletes with a high energy expenditures, eating the concentrated starchy carbs and grains is not only beneficial, it’s often crucial to sustaining energy and performance.

Even bodybuilders and strength athletes can benefit from fairly generous starchy carb intakes when increasing muscle mass is the goal.

Aside from that minor quibble I have with some of these paleo programs being too strict with their no grains/starches dictum, I do think that most of the intentions behind the “paleolithic” eating concept are in the right place.”

Now, I don’t agree with the view that “grains can be healthy”, because I go along with the standard Paleo standpoint on that, but it’s true that if you want to add a lot of muscle, adding in some starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, or white rice to a post workout regimen could make a massive difference to muscle building progress. Also, if you’re able to tolerate it well, some dairy products really help a lot too. The idea is that causing an insulin spike shortly after working-out, enables protein to be shuttled into the muscles along with glucose, which enables them to grow, and simultaneously replenishes muscle glycogen stores. This process can happen without the addition of carbs, but it happens to a much lesser degree with protein and fat alone.

So, there we have it…..The Paleo diet and bodybuilding do go hand in hand as long as we eat of some kind of quality carbohydrate source too!

[warning]Don’t forget that the idea of adding starchy carbs etc is mainly reserved for people who possess a properly working metabolism. The starches we have been discussing are absolutely not safe for diabetics, or people with metabolic derangement.[/warning]


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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9 Responses to The Paleo Diet And Bodybuilding

  1. Jay April 16, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I think Mr Venuto misses the point of the Paleo diet entirely. First and foremost it’s less a “diet” than it is a lifestyle. It’s not really about losing weight, it’s about health. Sure you can still get lean while including grains and dairy in your diet but what is that doing to your body long term?

    • Barry Cripps April 16, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Well Jay, not every person in the world has issues with grains and dairy….but obviously many do. Like I said at the bottom, I don’t agree that grains are a good idea period, but Tom was speaking mostly in the context of bodybuilding applications. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Ken O'Neill April 16, 2012 at 9:00 am

    In all truth, when I first looked through Cordain’s book my opinion was ‘oh, another high protein, moderate carbo diet.’ And certainly one without the refinement of Mauro di Pasquale, MD, The Anabolic Diet - the latter a scientific dietary approach to optimizing muscle growth without recourse to steroids. In retrospect, Paleo offers an excellent foundation for bodybuilders and power lifters. On the other hand, Cordain’s Paleo for Athletes is deceptively titled since it applies to endurance athletes and is of no benefit for bodybuilders.

    Why that first response to Cordain’s book? By the time I became familiar with his work I’d already racked up half a century in the realm of Physical Culture. Physical Culturists have always advocated a life rich is robust exercise combined with a diet of nutrient dense, whole natural foods. Where Paleo differs is simply in being more advanced. The old timers what worked best from personal experimentation and observation. The roots of Paleo lie in evolutionary medicine, hence provide in depth scientific basis for the Physical Culture position.

  3. D.K. April 19, 2012 at 8:41 am

    It’s crucial to eat your starchy carbs and perhaps some BCAAs within the first few minutes of finishing your workout. I usually take a couple fruits or a sweet potato in a tupperware container to the gym and wash it down with 5-10grams of BCAAs in pill form (to avoid the sucralose crap they put in the powder mix). Then for the rest of the day I include some low glycemic fruits to keep the glycogen supply steadily flowing to my muscles (but to a lesser degree). On rest days, I eat low carb and lots of protein and fats while including some BCAA supplements in smaller doses throughout the day to keep the muscle repair going. I’ve got some really great results out of this routine.

    • Lila Solnick April 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Hi D.K.

      Thanks for your input. It seems like you really have your routine planned out. I am sure others who are looking for the right path for themselves will find this interesting. I know I do, even though I am not, nor will I ever be, a bodybuilder!
      Thanks for commenting!

    • Barry Cripps April 19, 2012 at 9:38 am

      That looks like a very sound plan of action D.K….thanks for your comment!

  4. Kev April 20, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Are we asking, does the Paleo help a Natural Bodybuilder or the Mr. O type. I would bet if you added steroids to the Paleo your muscle response would be much higher than without regardless of the Carbs.
    That’s my hypothesis and I’m sticking with it… until it seems otherwise.

  5. Tony Frezza April 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

    The idea of an insulin spike “shuttling” proteins into the muscles is very very interesting and I’m definitely going to research that further. If that truly works then maybe Michael Phelps does actually eat at Subway. LOL.
    I’ve been Paleo for about a year now. Lost 9 pounds in Jan this year doing our Superhuman30 Paleo challenge, while strength stayed the same. Remained Paleo for Feb and March but ate a lot more fruits, vegetables, and sweet potatoes (especially after workouts) and saw my strength gains explode past where they ever been. I gained back about 15 pounds, a lot of it muscle. We have to remember that we don’t need grains to get plentiful sources of carbohydrates for muscle building.
    Also, I’ve been eating a ton of chicken, beef, seafood, and eggs. All amazing sources of protein and not a drop of milk. The statement that dairy is a SUPERB protein source is completely opinion based on “milk does a body good commercials”.
    Find what works for you through testing and measuring your results but just know muscle building can be done without the help of dairy and grains.

    • Lila Solnick April 22, 2012 at 11:14 am

      Great comment Tony. It does look like those focusing on increasing muscle mass MUST eat more carbs. And the observation that they do not need to come from grains is spot on. Grains do far more harm then good. Dairy, if RAW, is okay for some folk, if they can tolerate it. I am personally beginning to suspect that dairy adds to carb addiction, even aged cheese, which has little lactose. I’ve been getting myself into ketosis, but seemed to be “sabotaging” myself with dairy. It’s now off of my menu (or will be soon!)
      Great stuff! Keep it up and let us know how you progress.

      Thanks for visiting!