The Paleo Diet for Athletes
A few weeks ago, I posted about my first attempt at a Paleo Diet recipe. Since then I’ve been doing quite a bit more research on the paleo diet, listening to some great podcasts (The Paleo Solution), and reading testimonials from other athletes who follow the Paleo Diet. If I had to sum up everything I’ve read and heard so far, I’d say it’s the best thing since sliced bread (which paleo says is a no-no), and we should all jump on the bad wagon 10 minutes ago. However, to actually follow the diet is another story completely, because it is hard (especially if you like wine, chocolate, and any type of bread products). I recently read the book the Paleo Diet for Athletes, which is a slight variation from the original Paleo Diet. As an athlete and long distance runner, I’d like to share with you what I know. In reading the book, I found there was certainly no shortage of scientific claims to back the diet and I’ve come across even more testimonials, from your average person to your Olympian athlete. I’m beginning to think it just might be worth the 30 day challenge…
The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods people ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution, and it focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood. It discourages the consumption of dairy and grains, as well as any refined sugars, saturated and trans fats, and processed foods (The Paleo Answer). If the caveman didn’t eat it, then you shouldn’t either. The Paleo Diet for Athletes is different in that it breaks your day into 5 stages, all surrounding your workout. Depending on what stage you are in, there is a little more flexibility with what you should and should not eat. The five stages are the following:
1) Eating Before Exercise
2) Eating During Exercise
3) Eating Immediately after Exercise
4) Eating for Extended Recovery
5) Eating for Long Term Recovery
Stage I is that time period 1-2 hours before exercise. During this time you should eat low to moderate glycemic index foods (not bagels with jelly but think nuts, seeds, berries and whole wheat pasta). Stage II focuses on what you are consuming during long periods of exercise, typically longer than one hour. During this stage, a sports drink works great, but be sure to focus on consuming enough calories per hour (generally around 200-400 depending on the athlete). Stage III is perhaps the most critical. This is what you eat in those 30 minutes immediately following exercise, and this is the food that will help your body start to rebuild itself. Start refueling with foods that have a 4-5:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. A good option here would be a fruit smoothie with protein powder. Stage IV will vary, depending on the duration of the exercise. If you exercised for 2 hours, then Stage IV would be the 2 hours following the completion of your workout. The great thing about Stage IV is this is the time to replace those carbohydrate levels with delicious pasta, bagels, and sweet potatoes, which is a huge difference between the Paleo Diet for Athletes and the Paleo Diet. Finally, Stage V is when you return to a typical paleo diet focusing on lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Here are some great guidelines to follow if you are interested in starting the Paleo Diet. And did you know Amanda Beard, Olympic gold medalist, follows this diet? Clearly there are many diets out there and we all want to be the best athlete we can, so what can be wrong with a diet that promotes such clean eating? Lean meats, fruits, and veggies with bagels and pasta after I’ve worked for it…. now if I could just put down those pretzels and hummus. Well I think for Boston and dreams of a 3:20 marathon, I’ll give it a try.
Happy Trails and Happy Running,
P.S. – If you are interested in learning more about the Paleo Diet, I’d be happy to give you some more info and point you in the right direction. We can go down the Paleolithic road together!