CrossFit and Paleo: An Expert’s View


I’m happy to introduce you all to our guest blogger today, Max Shippee, who runs CrossFit HAX in suburban Los Angeles. He knows way more about CrossFit than I ever will, and I thought you CrossFitters deserved some words of wisdom about how Paleo can affect your performance. Check out the video below for a better understanding of who this guy is: funny, tough, sadistic, but sweet. Watch for another post by Max this week on the practical implementation of Paleo into your CrossFit life. Everyone, meet Max. Max, everyone…

Update of Max CrossFit interview from CrossFit HAX.

“No bread? Oh well, figures. No dairy? Really? But I thought—”

“Just do it for 30 days. If after the month you want to go back to what you were doing, fine, but give me thirty days.”

“No cheese?”

“Just for thirty days. It’s what you’re paying me for.”

When clients are finally ready to get serious about their nutrition, this is how most of the conversations go at our CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit HAX. By this time, I’ve usually put someone through more than a few workouts that have left them sweaty, spent, and sore. I tell them that I have them for an hour a day, and they have 23 left in the day to go screw things up, so it’s time to talk about those 23 hours.

Practicing CrossFit gives us a chance to run, jump, push, & pull with our bodies in a way that is physiologically sound and the most beneficial in the least amount of time. More than anything, CrossFit is performance-based fitness. We care more about what we can do (How fast can you run a mile? How many pull-ups can you do? How much weight can you pick up off the ground?) than the numbers on the scale, or some BMI chart. This same approach applies to the nutrition side of things. Your nutrition affects your performance. Can you imagine showing up to workout after a couple of beers and a dozen doughnuts? The odds are 10 to 1 you’ll be visiting the puke bucket on THAT day. (Yes, we have a puke bucket, and yes, it gets used.)

I like to start the nutrition conversation with about a dozen words: “Eat meat & vegetables, nuts & seeds, some fruit, little starch, & no sugar.”  The true power of the Paleo diet is its simplicity.

Paleo nutrition complements CrossFit training so dramatically that it is taught during every CrossFit Certification. In addition to the Paleo approach, we also learn how to weigh and measure those Paleo foods for high-octane results, should clients want to truly reach their full genetic potential. However, for the vast majority of people, just cleaning things up with those dozen words brings them far past what they thought possible without the hassle of having to weigh out their chicken breast and broccoli.

Here are just a few examples of what “going Paleo” has done for some of my clients:

Greg Before

Greg started off at 225 pounds, and was suffering with severe colitis. After three months of strict Paleo nutrition, he dropped down under 200 pounds for the first time in years, and had 95% of his colitis symptoms disappear. If it wasn’t for his love of a few “cheat beers” here and there, I think his symptoms would have been gone entirely. He not only dropped weight but also experienced faster and stronger performance, as well as increased mental clarity.

Greg After

Laura, who’s been with me for almost a year, decided to really address her nutrition during a Paleo challenge in January of this year. Over the 45 days that we had the challenge, she had to buy new, smaller pants—twice. She also took her deadlift from 155 pounds to 225 pounds. She got smaller and stronger at the same time; at a bodyweight of 127 pounds, she’s throwing up some pretty fierce numbers. On a side note: when she does goes out for a drink now, she doesn’t buy her own, guys are buying them for her.

Then there’s Tanya, who thought she was being “good” by eating wheat bread instead of white bread. Before she even stepped foot into my gym, she lost 10 pounds in about 3 weeks, just by cutting out grains, specifically wheat. Once in the gym, in the span of about six months, she went from “jiggly” (her words) to “tight” and also got her goal of her first strict pull-up.  There’s also Bill, who went strict Paleo for about two months, and lost more than 30 pounds—and got his whole family to ask what the heck he was doing.

Paleo is a great entry point for people looking to take control of their nutrition. The virtual absence of modern diseases such cancer and diabetes in our ancestors—and conversely, the exponential rise of these conditions in current populations adopting a typically “western” (highly processed and grain-based) diet—begs us to take an evolutionary approach to our dietary choices. Paleo is the short list for the food that actually provides superior nutrition for your body. Realizing the simplicity of avoiding certain foods while having your fill of others keeps you on track without the fear of going hungry. We get all the benefits of decreased insulin load and increasing fat metabolism without the potential inconvenience of calorie-counting or obsessing about the size of our meals. One of the most comforting things people hear when I coach Paleo is, “Don’t go hungry. If you’re hungry, eat.” Addressing the quality of your food makes it less necessary to worry about the quantity, and is a wonderful step in the direction of health and longevity.

I find the best way to initiate people into the Paleo lifestyle is to ask them to try it for 30 days. This is something people find manageable, and just like the dialogue above, it gives people an out if they’re feeling terrible at the end of 30 days and want to go back to what they were doing. This, by the way, has never happened yet. Of course, our gym needs periodic challenges to keep people on track, since it seems that some have the tendency to slide slowly off track as opposed to jump off completely. A cookie here, a couple beers there, and pretty soon they come in seeking motivation to get back on track. I find that doing this about twice a year, once in January, after the madness of the “holidaze,” and once around July or August, to get us back on track after perhaps a bit of too much fun in the summer.

Here’s to hoping your summer is going superbly, and you’re exploring the magic of the Paleo margarita on your cheat day!

More About Max:

Max Shippee grew up in a very small town in northern Maine, minutes from the Canadian border. Growing up in the woods, and being the son of a dance teacher, he’s been physically active his entire life. He has embraced health and fitness philosophies ranging from body building to endurance training, before finding CrossFit and its performance-based approach to lifelong fitness. Before finding a fit with the Paleo approach to nutrition, Max had also tried numerous nutritional practices, including raw flood, veganism, and Atkins. A father of three, he’s as proud of his family as he is of his business, CrossFit HAX in suburban Los Angeles. Max has Level 1, Kids, and Mobility Certifications from CrossFit. He likes the geeky things in life, including Legos, lasers, and computer operating systems named after cats.


Remember that Paleo Plan offers you the convenience of a weekly meal plan, grocery lists and recipes to stay on track with Paleo. Find out more here.