Going Paleo ain’t always easy. Giving up bread and dairy can seem like an insane sacrifice in the name of health (though perhaps it's not as tough as the Whole30 diet...) But we’re here to tell you that while Paleo is certainly an endeavor (that does have big payoffs), it doesn’t need to be a boring one. Choose your foods correctly and you’ll wind up with delicious meals that will also fuel your body to meet your fitness goals.
Not only are eggs cheap, easy to prepare, and the gold standard of protein availability and absorption, they’re also versatile. So change up your scramble. “Keep hard-cooked on hand for grab and go, add to a salads, or poach and serve over a bed of steamed spinach and lemon juice,” says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D. And don’t forget the yolk: It’s one of the top food sources of choline—which has a variety of benefits including helping with fat metabolism, says Molly Kimball, sports dietitian with Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.
If you’re craving carbs, you’ll love cauliflower—it’s pretty much a carb swap, says Kimball. “You can use roast cauliflower and puree it as a mashed potato type extra, or you can put it in the food processor raw, lightly steam it, and it can be a rice substitute,” she says. “There are also tons of recipes that use cauliflower to make a pizza crust.”
Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries. Berries beat out other fruits in a lot of health categories, says Kimball. “Calorie per calorie, raspberries are among the highest fiber foods per calorie,” she says. With berries, you also get the most antioxidant bang for your buck per calorie compared to other fruits, she adds.
Tuna is high in protein, carb-free, and a healthy fat. The other great thing: it's cheap and has a long shelf life. Try both canned chunk light in water or fresh tuna—raw sashimi—with veggies over a salad, says Gerbstadt. Other options: Add chopped olives, pickles, hard cooked eggs, and celery for tuna salad.
“A lot of people drink energy drinks and, if they decide to go Paleo, they can’t have them anymore,” says Kimball. “But something like coffee or green tea pre-workout can not only give you boost of energy, it can also affect your perception of pain during a workout, making it seem easier.” Research also shows that having caffeine before cardio can help your body use fat as an energy source more effectively. Coffee, specifically, is also a top source of antioxidants, says Kimball.
For quick snacks and hearty meals alike, look no further than ground turkey. It’s inexpensive, great for burgers with your favorite mesquite or Indian spices, and you can add it into meatloaf, says Gerbstadt.
You can get your omega-3s from plant-based foods, sure. But plant-based foods that are high in omega-3s like walnuts or flax seeds don’t have the same benefits that fish rich in omega-3s do, says Kimball. That’s mainly because your body has to convert ALA (a form of omega-3s in plant foods) to EPA or DHA (found in animal sources). So don’t write salmon off: A diet rich in omega-3s has been linked to a longer life, cardiovascular benefits, a better memory, and a lower chance of chronic disease—in part thanks to the natural anti-inflammatory effect. Plus, a higher intake of fish-based omega-3s is linked to a lower risk of depression, says Kimball.
Forget processed peanut butter and make a nut butter at home with your favorite go-to nut: Add the nuts with a little bit of oil to match (use almond oil with almonds, for example) to the food processor and blend, says Kimball. Not only is it simple and pure, but you can add your own salt or other ingredients, so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body, she adds.
To make sure your electrolyte levels are in check, keep greens—beet greens, turnip greens, or mustard greens—in your fridge. “These foods are rich in potassium, sodium, and calcium, and are electrolyte-rich foods that can help to replace your sports drink,” she says.