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Cornerstone Paleo Diet Rules and 7 Keys for Success

Cornerstone Paleo Diet Rules and 7 Keys for Success

Have you heard the term Paleo and wondered what the heck this new “caveman” craze is all about?

Maybe you have looked it up multiple times, only to find a million and one definitions of what is accepted as being Paleo.

Or maybe you thought, “No cheese? No way.”

If you’ve done some reading or had a few conversations with others about it, you probably heard it defined as the “diet eaten by hunters and gatherers.”

Don’t worry…we understand the confusion and have organized this post in order to help clear the air regarding Paleo diet principles and concepts.

So, let’s dig in and see how it may or may not fit your individual nutritional needs.  

What is Paleo?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no distinct definition of Paleo, hence the contradicting information.

In short, Paleo reflects a particularly holistic lifestyle, which in certain situations can be very advantageous to overall health. Exercise and mindset are a huge component of the Paleo lifestyle in addition to the style of eating.

The Paleo diet is explained to be one that’s uncompromised by agriculture. In other words, it places emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods such as fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, and free-range poultry. Dr. Loren Cordain, founder, and advocate of the Paleo diet explains the diet consist primarily of lean meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and of course, no added sugar. 

Is Paleo a good fit for me?

Before making any rash decisions to start Paleo, or really any diet for that matter, ask yourself, will this be a good fit for me? Although we recommend a whole foods approach to nutrition for all, there are particular restrictions while following Paleo that may further benefit certain individuals.

Food sensitivity: Do you feel like you’re drifting further and further away from your youthful years? All the sudden, the days of feeling healthy, fit, and alive seem like a distant past.

Maybe throughout the years, you have developed a need to to eliminate certain foods from your diet such as wheat or legumes as a result of a newly diagnosed food sensitivity. Unfortunately, our conventional methods of agriculture and the standard American diet have begun to change the microbiome of individuals- for the worst. 

Why does this matter? Food sensitivities are often the result of these changes in what humans eat, which are typically revealed through feelings of chronic fatigue, pain, and discomfort. If this sounds like you, refraining from the top food allergens while on the Paleo diet might be what gets you feeling like a spring chicken again!

Side note: Are you confused about the difference between a food sensitivity, food intolerance, and food allergy?  Read our post about the differences here.

Paleo Diet Rules

Simple Paleo Diet Rules
Here come the guidelines: get ready to feel amazing!

The main idea with eating Paleo is that you’re eating whole, completely unprocessed foods. If the item has is manufactured, changed, or in any way manipulated by a human being, it is not a “Paleo-approved” choice.

In addition to eating real food, the Paleo approach takes it one step further and does not allow foods that were not available in the Paleolithic time era. This is why you will not see legumes or even organic dairy on a Paleo menu. 

If you’re used to grains, beans, and in general lots of packaged foods, the Paleo diet might be a bit of an adjustment for you.  Here is a good meal template to follow to make sure you’re hitting the necessary food groups at each sitting:

  • Tons of veggies, at least half of your plate
  • Serving of starch 
  • Serving of animal protein 
  • A TBSP or two of healthy fat i.e. olive oil or avocado
  • Low glycemic fruit is optional

What is acceptable and what’s not (*This list is not all-encompassing; it’s just to get you started!)

Veggies: All non-starchy veggies such as lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots etc.

Fruits: apple, banana, watermelon, cantaloupe, orange, grapes with emphasis on lower glycemic fruit options such as berries, pomegranate, citrus fruit and kiwi

Starch: sweet potatoes, squash, plantains, pumpkin

Animal Protein: chicken, eggs, turkey, pork, tuna, salmon, lean beef, lean steak

Healthy fats: walnuts, almonds, grass-fed butter, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil. Peanuts/peanut butter is a legume and therefore not recommended.

An ideal day of Paleo eating might look like this:


  • Omelette – pepper, onion, or your favorite veggies, 2 eggs, 1-2 eggs whites for added protein, with sliced avocado on top
  • Banana with almond butter
  • Black coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon and splash of unsweetened coconut cream 


  • Salad – fill a large bowl with romaine lettuce or mixed greens, sliced cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, 3-5 oz canned tuna, drizzled with oil and vinegar dressing
  • Apple and a handful of pecans


  • A handful of almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts
  • Piece of fruit dipped in sunflower seed butter
  • Cut up carrots and celery dipped in mustard or salsa
  • Baked plantain chips dipped in guacamole
  • Spicy or cinnamon coated pumpkin seeds (These are our favorite Super Seedz)


  • Spaghetti Squash and tomato sauce: fill a bowl with cooked spaghetti sauce and top with tomato sauce and homemade turkey meatballs 
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Side salad: olives, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, lemon and olive oil drizzled on top

Post Workout:

It’s important to get the recommended protein intake, especially if you’re an athlete. As many athletes know, your post workout shake is crucial for recovery! It is still possible to do this, even when following an elimination diet such as the Paleo diet. Now, slurping down 3 loaded protein shakes and 12 eggs to “up your gains” is not necessarily your answer. Check out our posts on recommended protein intake for athletesessential post workout shake ingredients, and best post workout shake to get all the info you need about your post workout needs! 

Looking for a delicious tasting Paleo- friendly protein powder to use as the base of a meal or post-workout recovery shake? Our favorite is Pure Paleo by Designs for Health. All FWDfuel viewers will receive 20% off every order and free shipping over $49 after creating a free account with Wellevate.

I’m told I can lose weight…

You may have heard that the Paleo diet is a perfect option for your next weight loss plan as an athlete. This diet has become widely accepted by the CrossFit industry that has swept the world, as well as other areas of sports performance. Medical professionals have also taken an interest in this diet for its profound impact on resolving disease, asthma symptoms, allergies, eczema, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. throughout the world. 

The reason this diet has been shown to help people lose weight is really very simple. You’re eating real, fresh food that hasn’t been injected with chemicals or loaded with sugar. In other words, you are significantly decrease your body’s toxic burden and overall inflammation simply by eating pure food. The nutrients you take will have a direct impact on overall organ function and metabolism. A.K.A. the quality of your food can help to re-regulate your hormonal and metabolic reactions that have contributed to involuntary weight gain in the past.

You may have heard that this diet is low in carbohydrates. Well, this may or may not be true depending on what you’re choosing to eat. If you’re chowing down on sweet potatoes and plantains multiple times throughout the day, you’re not eating low carb…

The average person consumes more carbohydrates than their body needs, ultimately resulting in sugar being stored as fat, which we know is going to contribute to the expansion of your waist line, metabolic markers and lipid profile! 

How to be Successful with the Paleo Diet

  1. Food Preparation: Prepping food at the beginning of the week is essential to a successful Paleo lifestyle.

    Paleo Diet Food Preparation

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    Think realistically about what your day looks and feels like. If you already know you arrive home tired at 7:30 pm (especially if you have continued responsibilities such as caring for other human beings), avoid putting yourself in a position to think, “That’s it! Uber Eats it is!” We like to use glass containers with BPA free lids such as these to prep and refrigerate or freeze many of our meals. 

    If you’re used to frequent fast food stops or frozen dinners, considering reading our article about weight loss on a budget, where you’ll find additional meal prep tips.  

  2. Eat well-balanced meals: Relying too heavily on a single food group is a no-no. Every seen that Paleo Wizard at your gym eating bacon for every meal? Not good. Eating too much of anything, even veggies, is not going to be sustainable. Make sure to include an animal protein, a serving or two of starch, fruit/veggie, and healthy fat at every meal. This will ensure that you’re meeting the mark when it comes to necessary nutrients.
  3. You eat what you buy: Avoid purchasing food that will tempt you! If you purchase Caramel Fudge Klondike bars, you will eat them.  The more goodies you buy, the more likely you are to stray from your goals.  Stock up on the good stuff and then that’s all you’ll eat! Bonus tip: make sure the good stuff is ready to eat and available at eye level to increase your chances of compliance.
  4. Clear out the kitchen: Before beginning this new diet, donate any old, processed, or packaged food. You will set yourself up for success by clearing out the fridge and pantry with any food that is not Paleo-friendly. 
  5. Switch things up: While it might be extremely easy to eat the same food each day, eating a variety of foods is the best way to boost immune health as it helps to colonize our gut bacteria. Plus, the best way to fight taste bud boredom is to rotate the foods you eat each day. 
  6. Use your resources: There is a ton of information out there about how to follow a healthy and sustainable Paleo lifestyle. You may feel limited by not eating grains or processed foods, but the variety of foods available may surprise you. Check out Paleo Leap for lots of recipe ideas! And of course, don’t be afraid to get creative!
  7. Bring someone in for the ride: Consider inviting your best friend, spouse, child, or respected family member over to help you clear out the cabinets or go grocery shopping. It might even be fun to meal prep together each week. Knowing someone is in your corner makes a difference. 

Pros and Cons of a Paleo Diet


Whole foods = less inflammation: Foods like fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood aren’t injected with chemicals and foreign ingredients that often result in inflammation. Less inflammation also means your immune system can work on maintenance and repair throughout your body. Especially for athletes, the less inflammation, the better the recovery and performance!

Effect on disease: The Paleo diet has been widely accepted because of its effect on improving chronic disease, autoimmune disease, and other metabolic conditions. There are minimal diseases that will not respond positively to this style of eating. Why? Because chronic disease starts with chronic inflammation. When inflammation is not controlled over an extended period of time, we start to notice aggravating symptoms. Those symptoms eventually result in a diagnosis of disease.

Needless to say, when the Paleo approach is carried out with fidelity, the results can be life-changing. 

Optimizing overall health: Refined sugar, grains, dairy, and processed foods make up a majority of the American diet. So, imagine eliminating the negative health effects that come at the cost of eating this way. 

Save money: The Paleo diet includes whole, fresh foods. You might be under the impression that eating this way is very expensive. Don’t worry! It is completely possible to eat fresh, healthy, unprocessed food without blowing your budget. If you haven’t read our post about weight loss on a budget, go check it out! You’ll find great information about how to eat fresh food in a very affordable way.


What are your fitness goals? Depending on your goals and type of activity, eating Paleo might not be a safe or sustainable diet for your lifestyle. For example, ultra-endurance or elite performance athletes who are burning hundreds of calories in one training session may not benefit from the Paleo diet. The nature of these sports require high amounts of carbohydrate in order to sustain energy and work capacity. 

Paleo is restrictive: Paleo does not cut out carbohydrates, (that’s pretty much always a bad idea), but there are limited sources of high carbohydrate foods when following Paleo that you’re probably used to eating. For this reason, it is going to be essential to get creative with the foods you can eat. 


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Can I cheat?

Maybe food is your vice, maybe it’s not. However, our psychological relationship with food plays a BIG role in the quality of our choices. Do you ever look forward to an event with friends because of all the free food choices you know will be available? Do you tend to eat impulsively rather than on purpose? Maybe a feeling of guilt follows, snowballing into other vices. 

Think about the freedom that could come from treating food as your fuel, rather than just your “fun”.

No more dependency. No more guilt. 

However, a person will not wake up after three days of clean eating with bright eyes, a beach body, and sparkling skin. The ability to deliberately and intentionally enjoy just one glass of red wine as a reward for your hard work will require some patience. This is a process, and the process will require some time for proper detoxification. 

Knowing your whiskey, cheese, and Oreos are always an option on the back burner makes it unlikely to achieve true freedom. Of course, you do have the ability to eat them, but chemically speaking, you must truly step away for some time. 

Just like any other commitment or initial period of starting something new or challenging, 100% compliance is what you need to build routine and habit. 

With that said, it would be illogical to expect someone to seamlessly solve a Trigonometry problem who is struggling to identify basic shapes. So in preparation for your Paleo lifestyle, begin with a few small changes.

1) Increase your water intake, buy a reusable water bottle 

2) Don’t go back for round #2 of birthday cake, pizza, etc.

3) Replace one poor food choice daily with a positive one, preferably a Paleo diet friendly choice.  (My top tip: Do you usually stop for a $1 Diet Coke from the McDonald’s drive-thru? Replace it with a flavored sparkling water such as those made by LaCroix, Dasani, or Bubly)

From there, you are revving yourself up for success in adhering to the Paleo diet. Consider setting a date up until which you will implement Paleo with complete honesty. We recommend a minimum of 30 days of strict compliance for the best results. The lack of craving at the end of that period will most likely surprise you. (Some report a cessation of cravings after just 10 days!) At that point, you can make decisions about non-Paleo foods thinking, “I would really enjoy this homemade piece of cake for Mom’s birthday” versus “I NEED to have this right now or I may die.”

Are you ready?

Phew! See? These changes are much more than recreating a caveman’s menu in 2018. Hopefully, it is clear now that eating Paleo is not simply about upping protein in an attempt to appear more shredded or as a quick weight loss fix for that summer wedding. Your happiness and lasting health are worth this change. Breathe! Prepare your mind and kitchen. And commit to fueling your body with the tools needed to truly come alive inside and out. 


About The Author

Abby Vichill

Abby is a functionally trained Registered Dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Dayton and completed her Master of Science in Nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, where she is an adjunct instructor. Abby has been an athlete her entire life, but never truly discovered her potential until she dialed in her nutrition from a whole-foods approach. As a high school athlete and into her college career often experienced fatigue, discomfort, and nagging injuries that held her back from excelling despite trying to eat properly. Throughout her functional nutrition education and competitive involvement in the sport of Crossfit, Abby began a more holistic lifestyle, which has significantly improved her performance and overall well-being. Abby enjoys sharing her knowledge of functional sports nutrition to help improve the lives of active individuals.


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