Paleo Gains

Paleo Gains: How I Used Real Food to Build Muscle

In FitnessMove wellMovementPaleo |

On January 1, 2017

This is a bit overdue. But I’ve been pushing hard on getting the Full Body Fix video rehab program launched and this got bumped.

The goal of this post is to detail how I met some health and fitness goals relying on real food for the majority of the journey. I want to stress from the start that I fully realize weight gain is not the main reason people come to paleo or real food eating. Most people are seeking relief from health conditions or solutions to unwanted weight gain.

But there is a smaller portion of folks out there who want to improve their health with holistic food and functional movement who have a different problem.

They are “hardgainers” and ectomorphs with high metabolisms.

They are the annoying minority who will look thin no matter what they eat. And in our culture thin is equivalent to healthy. Which is as unfortunate as it is dangerously false.

But alas, I am one of those annoying people. And this is my story of how I changed that over the past 3 years.


I grew up in a rural community where “sport” consisted of climbing trees and navigating the gorge behind our house. In high school I was a 4 sport varsity athlete and good at a lot of things, but not great enough at any one thing to proceed to the next level. The jack of all and master of none, as it were.

And while I was athletic, I was also thin. Or scrawny…or lanky, whichever you prefer (picture right: that’s me on the left at 20 years old vs. 38 years old).

I have always been active and I have lifted weights consistently since age 16 when our high school basketball coach put us on a strength program. But I always had trouble maintaining any mass gain. At just shy of 6′ 1″, the most I weighed using my normal strength routine was 183 lbs. But if I even thought about running, I’d drop right back down my “set-point” of 173 lbs. When I did delve into recreational 5K running in 2010 and 2011, I plunged down another 10 lbs. to a slight 163 lbs.


I found CrossFit through my wife in 2012. I immediately fell for the culture, commitment and functional approach to movement. And pretty much everyone in our gym could throw massive weights around with ease and looked thick with muscle. Or in Jersey speak – they were jacked and tan. Me? I was pale and lanky.

I became determined to make some weight gain stick this time. Not just for the mass itself, but because as I was getting older, I felt a need and desire to be more robust. If we’re taking this whole “paleo” thing to heart, we should be able to lift our own body weight around in safe and functional patterns, right? Plus, the nature of my work is physical. I care for athletes and everyday people of all sizes, and being strong is extremely helpful in making that work easier on me physically.

So here’s what I did:


  1. CrossFit 3-4 days per week*
  2. Olympic or Power Lifting 1 x per week.
  3. Recovery workout/mobility/stability 1 x per week.
  4. Switched from running middle distance to more sprints.

    *2019 Update: I’ve shifted to a hybrid training program of 2-3 days/week of Powerlifting and 2-3 days of Muscle Anarchy programming by my friends at Thundrbro. Check out all the different programs on their site and use code “Fullbodyfix” for 10% off.


You may know my wife Diane Sanfilippo from her popular blog, books and podcast. If you do, you may also know that she is proudly half Jewish and half Italian. What this means is that adding more food to my plate is the equivalent of her saying “I love you.” Lucky me.  🙂  I’ve also learned to cook more items and have become fairly competent in the kitchen.

1. Eat More: In general, I added larger servings of real food to every meal.

2. More Fat: After dressing a salad normally, I would add at least an extra tablespoon of Kasandrinos EVOO. For savory dishes, I would cook in generous amounts of Ghee and add additional amounts (1-2 tbsp.) to each dish. Added 1 tbsp. Skinny Fat (MCT oil) to shakes.

3. More Carbs: Added white rice back into my diet. No, it’s not paleo, but I digest it well. I eat at least a cup almost everyday. Usually seasoned with salt and pepper and drenched in one of the above fats. I also eat all types of safe starches (potatoes, plantains, sweet potatoes) liberally.

4. More Protein: Added more protein to meals (a total range of 6-12 oz). I also added Calton Nutrition InPower protein or Equip Foods Prime Protein (beef protein isolate) to shakes as post workout fuel.

5. More Snacks: I always had trail mix, Epic Bars or DNX Bars, jerky, fruit & nut butter on hand.

Daily meal plan examples:
Breakfast: 3 eggs, home fries, half and avocado, sauerkraut, coffee with maple syrup and coconut milk.
Mid-Morning snack: Paleo Treats Mustang Bar
Post-workout shake: Calton Nutrition InPower or Equip Foods Prime Protein.
Lunch: Big Salad, 2-3 skin-on chicken thighs, veggies, half avocado, 1/2 cup white rice, Kasandrinos EVOO.
Afternoon Snack: Epic Bar or DNX Bar
Dinner: Large pork chop, sweet potato with ghee, cinnamon & coconut sugar, 1 cup of broccoli with more ghee.
Dessert: a few ounces of Eating Evolved Organic Dark Chocolate Caramel Cups

That’s it.

I didn’t count calories or macros, or add junky supplements with macho words like “nos” or “ultra-mega-explode-power-donkey-sauce.” I made sure to make sleep a priority, averaging 7.5 hours nightly. For the past year I’ve been consistently weighing in at 194 lbs*. And I’m far stronger than I’ve ever been in my life at 38 years of age. I recently met weight training goals of snatching more than my body weight, deadlifting more than 2x body weight (see below) and bench pressing over 300 lbs.          

*2019 Update: Since shifting away from CrossFit to more Powerlifting and Functional Bodybuilding, I’ve added an additional 5-8 lbs., and hover right around 200 lbs. most days.

(405# Deadlift at Crossfit Golden Gate, SF on 7/22/16)

And that’s what I want to close with. This transformation post isn’t about looking better. Although I do feel more confident because of my strength and stature, the ultimate goal was to get healthier. More robust. More capable. More adaptable.

So, while you may not have a goal of gaining weight, whatever your health goal is I’d encourage you to find a healthy path to that destination.

Yours in Health,

Dr. Scott

I’d love for you to take advantage of the subscriber only coupon for $10 off my video rehab program –  The Full Body Fix. I’ll also include my free eBook “Why Stretching Your Hamstrings Isn’t Working, and What To Do Instead.”

Last modified: September 22, 2020