By: Justin Robinson, MA,RD,CSSD,CSCS,TSAC-F, Human Performanace Dietician, Naval Special Warfare Center
Posted: January 31, 2023
Information presented within is not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.

The Paleo diet, short for Paleolithic, mimics humans’ hunter and gatherer ancestry intake, following the belief that they ate meat, tubers (root vegetables), and fruit. Therefore, the plan allows meat, vegetables, fruits, and sweet potatoes, but prohibits processed foods, dairy, grains, and legumes (see graphic below).

Like the vegan diet plan, Paleo does not target a specific macronutrient breakdown. The macro percentages, however, typically end up close to that of the Zone Diet – 40/30/30 of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, respectively. Paleo also resembles the Whole30 eating plan, but with fewer restrictions.


  1. Whole-food based, very limited in processed foods.
  2. Can function as an elimination diet to help identify food sensitivities (removal of gluten and dairy, for example).
  3. High in fiber, which can support healthy gut function.
  4. High variety of fruit and vegetable consumption increases antioxidant and phytonutrient intake.


  1. May provide inadequate calories and carbohydrates for athletes or individuals with high-energy needs, such as NSW Candidates and Students.
  2. Arbitrarily restricts foods that may have been available to our ancestors, such as white potatoes.
  3. Requires meal planning and preparation (as with all diet strict plans).
  4. Difficult to strictly follow when traveling or living in barracks or a training detachment.
  5. Often includes “paleo-friendly” desserts and snacks, which are essentially processed foods that replace wheat flour, sugar, and butter with almond flour, honey, and coconut oil.


The Paleo diet plan would not be considered unhealthy but could limit calorie intake with its restrictions. Thus, following a restrictive diet plan could hinder performance and recovery, due to inadequate energy and carbohydrate intake.

A “Paleo-Plus” eating plan would be more suitable for NSW candidates. Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods, but include more starches and grains, such as rice, pasta, bread, and other varieties of potatoes.


If you choose to follow any form of a “fad” diet, do so because it suits your individual goals, not because it worked for someone else. Further, monitor subjective and objective information such as body weight, sleep quality, energy levels, and gas/bloating amounts. During that time, stretch your boundaries – try new recipes, new foods, and determine what you can gleam from the diet trial, as any diet plan may offer some benefit.


  1. Caution any diet plan with a “good/bad” or “yes/no” list. “All food is fit”, as a former mentor used to say. Rather, use the mindset that people should eat certain foods much more frequently than others while avoiding some other foods nearly all the time.
  2. Worry less about carbs, protein, and fat … and eat real, un-processed foods.
  3. Cook your own food as often as possible.
  4. Enjoy eating and mealtime.
  5. Do not demonize a particular food, diet plan, or person who follows a specific diet.

Keto, vegan, and Paleo effectively span the entire gamut of diet plans, and any of them (or any fad diet) can yield temporary benefits. But treating any restrictive diet plan like a decree falls short of a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Further, any restrictive plan (one with many rules) will be difficult to sustain and likely will provide insufficient fuel for NSW candidates.


Naval Special Warfare Assessment Command