Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet for Fighters

– by James Gregory –

James is the author of Paleo for Fighters

I hesitated to use the word “diet” in the title. US society has bastardized it to the point that it conjures up nothing but the unpleasant: pain, struggle and impossibility. I hesitated even more because it represents a special kind of pain for fighters. “Dieting” is feeling constantly hungry, eating flavorless, fatless chicken breasts, microwaved broccoli and maybe some oatmeal for weeks on end and clawing your way through training camp until you’ve malnourished yourself enough to make weight, fight, and then go on a donuts-fried-chicken-greasy-Chinese-food-tacos-and-soda-and-MOARDONUTS!!! bender until it’s time to roust yourself from your food coma and get back into the gym before you’re 25 pounds over your fight weight—typically a week. So, not that. “Diet” in the sense of just the foods that we eat.

If you read my last article, “Why Fighting Solves Everything,” you’ll know that Muay Thai was part of a change to a healthy lifestyle that helped me overcome an alcohol and cocaine addiction, a change that was truly life-saving. Part of this change, in addition to not dumping poison in my body, was a mission to find exactly what I should put in it. After having nearly killed myself, I really wanted to know what it felt like to be truly healthy.

When I started training, I ate what I at the time, and I think most people in general, would consider healthy: mostly whole foods, a good amount of whole grains, not a lot of junk, but some amount of processed sugar, including sports drinks. I weighed around 180-185lbs at 5’7” and trained as much as I do now, 4–6 days a week. Obviously, I don’t have to tell anyone reading this that Muay Thai is good exercise, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t putting the time in at the gym.

I just felt like there was something missing, something I wasn’t doing right, something that could get me leaner. I’ll fully admit, in addition to wanting to feel and be healthy, I wanted to look better, wanted a six pack. I think vanity can be a natural motivator for anyone, and provided it does not become excessive, possibly a healthy one.

At the time, I trained with a doctoral candidate in paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania. She was the one who convinced me to give paleo eating a go. I was fortunate in the fact that she was a real-life paleontologist, but it wasn’t just that. Emma was (and is) a good example of the benefits of paleo eating: healthy, energetic and lean. This is also the exact combination of qualities you also want as a fighter—the whole idea is to be as lean as possible while maintaining enough energy to train and fight well, lean and strong.

After around three weeks to a month of paleo eating, I got what I had been looking for. I dropped 15-20 pounds, all fat. I kept all of my muscle, had more strength, more energy to train. I recovered faster, my moods were more even, and I started to just get more done and in a better way than before. I evened out at around 165lbs, pretty much what I walk around at now, and have fought at 147 and 155lbs. Read More