Paleo Diet for Athletes: Everything You Need to Know

It was in October 2005 when Rodale Press released the Paleo Diet for Athletes. The book is authored by Loren Cordain Ph.D., who was also the genius behind the Paleo Diet. She is co-authored by Joe Friel M.S., who has also written various bestselling books on training for endurance athletes.

paleo-diet-for-athletes-bookThe Paleo Diet for Athletes is a book which espouses the concept of eating in a similar way with the human ancestors living during the Stone Age to meet the extraordinary demands of training for strenuous endurance sports. While it is not the 21st century, athletes still possess Paleolithic or Old Stone Age physiques.

In the past 10,000 years, there has been no considerable change in the human genetic makeup. When it comes to physiology, humans are still Paleolithic athletes.

Most diet programs designed for athletes are synonymous with carbohydrate-packed foods such as bagels, pasta, bread, rice cakes, and manufactured recovery supplements and sports drinks. This could not be much further from how Old Stone Age people ate, yet a lot of athletes are beginning to follow the Paleo diet plan.

Grand slam-winning tennis player Novak Djokivic, surfer Kelly Slater, ex-NFL offensive lineman John Welbourne, and NBA superstar Steve Nash all supposedly follow the Paleo way of eating.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The concept of paleo diet is very simple – you eat how people would have eaten their food 10,000 years ago. This implies basing your diet around seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, fish and meat, according to your shopping list.  Beans, processed dairy, and grains are all prohibited as well as alcohol, refined vegetable oils and the more apparent food items such as sweetened drinks, junk food and candy.

While there are some loopholes such as root vegetables, caffeine and grass-fed cream and butter, you can never go wrong if you opt to stick with plant and animal products and staying away from anything that’s processed.

What are the Benefits of Paleo to Athletes?

According to the authors of the book, there are endless advantages for athletes making the switch to paleo diet. In an article written by Cordain for the “Muscle and Fitness” website, she asserted that following the paleo diet can help enhance health indicators and increase fat reduction.

By enhancing your overall health, you will be able to recover faster between games and training sessions, while fat reduction can help with weight to strength ratio.

Paleo is high in protein which is be advantageous for athletes in the repair of damaged muscles and build strength in between workouts. Compared with the usually accepted athlete’s diet, the Paleo diet promises to deliver the following benefits:

The Pros

  • Provides ample amounts of trace nutrients – Minerals and vitamins are crucial for the maintenance of optimum health and long-term recuperation from training. The most nutrient rich foods are seafood and vegetables. On the average, vegetables have almost twice the nutrient content of grains.
  • Reduces body acidity – The paleo diet helps lower the catabolic impact of acidoses on muscle and bone while stimulating the synthesis of muscle protein. This is very important with aging.
  • Reduces omega-3 to omega-6 ratio – The paleo diet helps reduce tissue inflammations which are common to athletes while promoting faster healing.
  • Boosts the intake of BCAA or branched chain amino acids which enhances anabolic functions and muscle development

The Cons

According to its proponent, the paleo diet is not considered as a low-carbohydrate diet and that the prehistoric populations solely obtain about 1/3 of their calories from plant-based foods. The prohibition on grains implies that you will consume lesser carbs on the Paleo diet program than with a usual Western diet.

This principle is contradicting to the usual suggestion of 50 to 60 percent of total calorie consumption from carbs to improve athletic performance. Carbs are the body’s preferred energy source when training at high intensity. While you can adapt to utilizing fat for energy, the period of transition in doing so will only leave you feeling tired and lethargic.

Planning Your Athletic Performance on a Paleo Diet

The macronutrient requirement of your body changes with the needs of the training sessions so they must also be periodized along with your workout. It is highly suggested that athletes maintain rather regular protein consumption throughout the entire year.

athleteAs a portion of the total calories, this will usually be about 20 to 25 percent for athletes. This is on the low end of what Old Stage populations ate because of the athlete’s increased consumption of carbs during Stages 1 and 4, which dissolves protein as a portion of daily calories.

On the other hand, diet periodization can lead to crucial and opposing changes in the athlete’s carbohydrate and fat consumption as the training season changes.

If you opt to follow a paleo diet program, it is best to make a couple of modifications to the usual Paleo-style diet to help boost your athletic performance, especially on a paleo breakfast. Try to include lots of carbs from Paleo-friendly sources such as vegetables and fruits.

You may need to bend the guidelines a bit and incorporate a few gray-area food items from your paleo list such as white and sweet potatoes as well as other root crops to help you obtain your carbohydrate supply.

If you are engaged in a sport that is especially physically demanding and burns great amounts of calories, you will also need a lot of calorie-rich foods such as eggs, coconut, avocado, nuts and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel to replenish what you have burnt.

Also try to incorporate carbohydrate-rich pre- and post-exercise snacks such as mixed nuts and dried fruit, squash roasted in coconut or olive oil, or a serving of fruit salad or salad dressing.

During the time of the year when workout sessions are tremendously reduced (tapering/peaking and periods of transition), the athlete should reduce the consumption of calories to avoid unwanted weight gain.

The Final Verdict

Fitness and health are not always synonymous. The sad news is that a lot of athletes are fit but not healthy. Frequent overtraining, injury, and illness can lower one’s performance potential. Fortunately, the paleo diet improves health in the long-term, as compared to the typically accepted athlete’s diet.

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