For 2.5 million years, early man foraged and hunted for seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and seeds. This period of time before the development of agriculture is known as the Paleolithic era. The Paleo diet is also known as the Stone Age diet, hunter-gathering diet and the caveman diet. No matter what you call our ancestors, some things haven’t changed. Man’s digestive systems have evolved only the slightest amount in the 10,000 years since farming changed our diets. Shortened to Paleo, the modern diet is an approach to nutrition that mimics the early man’s diet for ultimate health.
Our minds are modern, but our bodies and brains still need the same food. Gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin first popularized the Paleo diet in the 1970’s. He argued in, “The Stone Age Diet,” humans as carnivores, chiefly needs fats, proteins and a small amount of carbohydrates for optimum performance. For the last 30 years, obesity has been increasing in the United States. Our modern diets are laden with preservatives, processed sugars, and fried foods. Today’s health crisis has led to a renewed interest in Voegtlin’s tested approach to healthy living.
Athletes looking for a way to maximize their training results may have heard of the Paleo Diet for Athletes. While misunderstanding abounds, the Paleo Diet is founded on the type of foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived on many thousands of years ago. With a few modern tweaks, the Paleo Diet for Athletes can provide a competitive edge, allowing for greater muscle build-up with decreased recovery times and thus increased performance. Scientific studies continue to demonstrate its safety and efficacy.
Paleo Diet Philosophy
At its heart, the diet’s philosophy is very simple: consume the types of foods that the human body evolved to consume. In the words of the diet’s creator, “the optimal diet for the athlete is the same one that we as Homo sapiens have thrived on for nearly all of our existence on the planet – a Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, diet, albeit one slightly modified to meet the unique demands of athletes”. The Paleo Diet follows a low-carbohydrate, high-protein plan, but for athletes, it also takes into account the need for glycogen restoration after exercise. While similar to some other diets, “the greatest differences of what we propose here may be found in the timing of carbohydrate and protein ingestion, especially branched-chain amino acids; selecting foods based on glycemic load at certain times relative to training; the base-enhancing effects of our diet on blood and other body fluids; and periodization of diet in parallel with training”. In this way, the diet is organized to best benefit training and cut down on recovery.
Athletes should be clear that this diet is very different from the traditional high-carbohydrate diets espoused by most trainers. In fact, athletes will need to forego most all carbohydrates since “grains, like dairy products and refined sugars, were not part of the native human diet”. The diet is founded on consumption of “healthful fruits, veggies, lean meats, and seafood”. Dietary strategies are intended to increase performance and for overall health; this is not a weight-loss diet, despite that followers do lose fat and gain muscle.
Paleo’s Competitive Edge
The Paleo Diet for Athletes offers a competitive edge to those who follow it. The diet evolved through training needs thus maximizes athletic performance. Researchers “found this way of eating to be ‘ergogenic,’ a term exercise physiologists use to describe nutritional supplements that can enhance athletic performance”. It “is high in animal protein, which is the richest source of the branched-chain amino acids – valine, leucine, and isoleucine…potent stimulants for building and repairing muscle”. It provides the building blocks for muscle growth and repair, essential to any serious athlete.
It offers several other benefits. The diet “prevents muscle protein breakdown because it produces a net metabolic alkalosis.” The foods commonly eaten by Americans are acidic. To neutralize an acidic diet, the body breaks down muscle tissue, obviously bad for athletes wanting to build up muscle stores. Since the Paleo diet is net-alkaline, the body has no need to break down muscle tissue. In addition, the diet also protects health. All the fruits and vegetables provide a rich array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which promote immune-system function. Indeed, researchers have found that “the frequency and duration of colds, flu, and upper respiratory illnesses are reduced when athletes adopt the Paleo diet”. Athletes build muscle faster, don’t break it down, and bolster their immune systems at the same time – all good things for performance.
The key to the Paleo Diet regimen is its tailoring to the athlete’s training schedule. In “recognition that consumption of starches and simple sugars was necessary and useful only during exercise and in the immediate post-exercise period,” it allows athletes to ingest certain carbohydrates only when it best suits them for training, in the pre- and post-exercise windows. At all other times, “eat as much lean meat, poultry, seafood, fresh fruit, and veggies as you like”. Thus, the diet is high in protein, but because of the preference for lean proteins, saturated fat consumption is lower than some may expect. The Paleo Diet is not the high-fat Atkins diet; it preferences the “good” fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, which lower cholesterol and protect health.
Foods barred from the diet include “cereal grains, dairy products, high-glycemic fruits and vegetables, legumes, alcohol, salty foods, fatty meats, refined sugars, and nearly all processed foods”. Instead, athletes eat low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, which provide the vitamins and minerals that are so helpful for those lost during exercise. But in recognition of depleted glycogen stores, “Immediately before, during, and after a workout or competition, certain non-Paleo foods should be eaten to promote a quick recovery”.
Example Daily Menu – 2200 Calories
Cantaloupe – 276g
Broiled Atlantic salmon – 333g
Romaine lettuce – 68g
Carrot – 61g
Cucumber – 78g
Tomatoes – 246g
Lemon juice dressing – 31g
Walnuts – 11g
Broiled lean pork loin – 86g
Veggie and avocado-almond salad
Mixed greens – 112g
Tomato – 123g
Avocado – 85g
Almonds – 45g
Red onion – 29g
Lemon juice dressing – 31g
Steamed broccoli – 468g
Lean beef sirloin tip roast – 235g
Strawberries – 130g
Orange – 66g
Carrot sticks – 81g
Celery sticks – 90g
Timing of Eating for Athletic Events
Eat at least two hours before exercise, consuming 200 to 300 calories per hour prior to the start of the event (so 400 to 600 calories if two hours before or 600 to 900 calories if three hours before). These should be low- to moderate-glycemic-index carbohydrates that are also low in fiber. If exercise lasts less than an hour, no carbohydrates are needed during the event. If lasting for more than an hour, athletes should consume high-glycemic-index carbohydrates during the event, in the form of sports drinks.
Within thirty minutes of completing a competitive event or long/intense exercise period, athletes need to consume both protein and carbohydrates in a 45:1 ratio. Commercial protein shakes are an easy choice, but home-made ones work just as well, so long as they’re consumed within thirty minutes. For the post-exercise period, up to the amount of time spent exercising, athletes should continue to eat moderate- or high-glycemic-index carbohydrates along with protein, at a ratio of 45:1. During this time, athletes may eat non-Paleo foods like bread, pasta, or other glucose-rich foods. After this stage, athletes should return to eating according to the Paleo Diet – lean proteins and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
Paleo in the Long-term
The Paleo Diet has been helping athletes improve performance for more than ten years. It’s heavily based on science and proven effective in the real world of athletics, yet many still balk at the notion of eating as our ancestors did. Studies of remote populations, of people who follow much the same diet as Paleo advocates, reveal some sobering information. For example, “despite diets rich in animal foods, these people have healthful blood cholesterol levels that leave the average Westerner in the dust”. High blood pressure is rare, as is obesity. These populations don’t have many diseases of the Western world. That current scientific data is confirmed by historical accounts written when Westerners came into contact with hunter-gatherer societies.
Recent medical studies bear out the effectiveness and safety of low-carbohydrate diets. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have demonstrated that low-carbohydrate diets cause lower cholesterol, improved glycemic control, improved insulin sensitivity, improved triglyceride levels, as well as better weight loss when compared to other diets. These studies, conducted over years, also dispel the persistent myth that low-carbohydrate diets are deleterious to health. All of this data shows that the Paleo Diet for Athletes is the best way to bring diet in line with training goals to achieve optimal results.
The advantages of the Paleo Diet have been researched and proven in numerous academic journals. It is amazing how changing what we put in our mouths can cause dramatic changes in our quality of life.
Lose fat- Though the Paleo diet is designed as a weight loss plan people inherently lose weight. The foods that make up the Paleo diet are what we call fat burning foods. In fact, the Paleo diet allows you to eat large quantities of delicious food while restricting calories. The result is a lean, fit body.
Fight Disease- The Paleo diet is proven to help prevent diabetes, Parkinson’s avoid Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease and strokes.
Improve Digestion- Many digestive problems such as, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and indigestion can be avoided.
Combats Acne– Eating the Paleo way means avoiding the foods that cause acne. When sebum is overproduced or obstructed the sebaceous glands enlarge and form pimples. Foods in the Paleo diet do not cause the insulin spikes that cause a sebum boost. As a result, you can expect smoother, more attractive skin.
Feel Good- Not only does the Paleo diet help people healthier and look younger it also makes you feel better. Paleo supporters swear by the caveman lifestyle because it just “feels” right. The only way to find out the energy and confidence they experience is to try it for yourself.
Unfortunately, the cheapest and quickest foods available today are usually the least nutritious. Our busy lifestyles have our kids raised on a diet of processed and fast foods. The popular culture even makes eating real foods an odd concept. Even knowing the proven benefits, some never try the Paleo diet because they believe it is too difficult. Living a long, healthy fulfilling life is well worth a few small changes. While not as easy as stopping at a drive through, maintaining a Paleo lifestyle is realistic with a few tips.
- Stay Organized- The number one tip is to be organized and prepared. The biggest challenge will be to have Paleo foods available at your home and plan your meals. You are much more likely to eat healthy food choices if it is readily available at home.
- Change How You Shop- Find the best farmers markets, butchers and grocery stores in your area. Before going to the grocery have a list of items you plan to pick up. Also, shop the perimeter of grocery stores to avoid the aisles filled with processed foods. This may be difficult at first, but after a month or so you will know longer feel a need to peruse the sugar aisles.
- Clean Your Pantry- Clear your cupboards of all the cereals, pasta, and processed foods in your cabinets. Don’t worry. You will replace these foods with much more satisfying fresh and healthy foods.
- Learn to Work the Kitchen- Unlike a diet based on grains, there are many foods to eat on the Paleo Diet you should never become bored. The best way to take advantage of everything nature has to offer is to learn how to cook. By combining the diverse flavors, there is an endless amount of tasty dishes to excite your taste buds.
- Dress Your Food- Most of the condiments on the store shelves are filled with preservatives. However, you can enhance the flavor of your foods by making your own condiments at home. Ketchup, mustard, salad dressings and sauces can be made at home naturally with delicious results.
- Exercise- Just changing your eating habits will cause you to lose weight naturally on the Paleo Diet. Add exercise to the mix, and you will be amazed at how quickly you notice a difference. Your true, toned physique will come out as pounds shed. You will also notice the amount of energy increased compared to when you ate a traditional diet. Start feeling strong, energetic, mentally sharper and all around younger.
- Join Support System- Find chat rooms and forums where like-minded people meet. Participate at a gym where the Paleo Diet is the main lifestyle choice. It is nice to share ideas on the best Paleo books, and even give advice on keeping true to the diet plan. Joining a community online or in person is extremely motivating when you learn about how the other member’s lives improved just from staying true to the Paleo way.