What’s the paleo diet and does it work for endurance athletes?
The Paleo Diet refers to the practice of eating like a caveman….the question is as an endurance athlete would it benefit your training and racing results to eat like that too?
In a recent blog I talked about hating the ‘Diet’ word. When I said this, I was thinking about the diets that promise quick weight loss by eating weird and wonderful foods or excessively manipulating your carbohydrate, fat and protein intake. The paleo diet is more a way of eating, it’s simple, if a caveman couldn’t eat it then neither can you. This may sound a little restrictive but it does mean you can eat anything a caveman could hunt or gather which means poultry, meat, fish, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, as well as seasonal fruit and veg. It just means you have to cut out all the highly refined foods especially those with ingredients you can’t pronounce!
This way of eating has a lot in common with the Low Carb High fat (LCHF) diet. Although LCHF removes eating grain to lower carbohydrate intake, it allows a hefty chunk of dairy consumption.
If you need proof that this way of eating will serve you well as an endurance athlete, look at the average caveman. They were a muscular, athletic, agile hunter. What about the average person now? Typically overweight and on track for a variety of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Eating like a caveman is only going back to what we are biologically designed to eat.
So how did the human race get itself to the place where we are literally killing ourselves with our food? There are several contributing factors, I think the main ones are intensive farming, the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry as well as poor government guidelines telling us to make grains and carbohydrates the focus of every meal. Oh, and I forgot to mention SUGAR!
Let’s look at some of the concerns and questions you might have about this way of eating:
I’m an endurance athlete so what about my carb!?
An obvious question is if you’re not eating bread and pasta every day, where are you supposed to get your energy for training and racing from?
Eating like a caveman will mean you will still get carbs from fruit, vegetables and sweet potatoes, and fruit.
Although research shows the benefits of high levels of carbohydrates for endurance athletes, our bodies are actually designed to operate on a lower level of carbohydrate than many of us are used to eating. When you don’t eat a high level of carbs, your body will use fat as a fuel instead.
Don’t I need dairy?
What’s strange about our consumption of milk is that it is actually for baby cows and apart from humans, there are no other animals in the entire animal kingdom who drink milk beyond infancy. As endurance athletes, many of us use milk as a recovery drink and indeed it’s a great source of calcium and protein. On the whole, we’re not really designed to digest large quantities of dairy, indeed many people are lactose intolerant. and if that’s you, then you can still get the nutrients you need from eating alternative sources of protein and veg.
Will I get healthier, leaner, lighter and faster eating this way ?
Absolutely! When you eat like a cave man, you are eating nutritious filling foods packed full of vitamins and minerals. Eating in this way, you will have more energy eat fewer calories and therefore lose some body fat as a result.
Do I need to count calories?
No, and I think that’s the best thing about eating in this way. It’s simple, eat a good protein source at every meal with some veg. and eat to appetite. If you’re constantly feeling hungry, then snack on a handful of mixed nuts, a green apple and almond butter. If you’re not hungry then don’t eat. When you cut out highly refined foods, to begin with you can sometimes lethargic or get cramp more than usual. If this happens, try adding some salt to your food.
In summary, my personal view is that it has eating like a caveman definitely has its advantages. It points you towards eating the foods that are packed with health and energy giving nutrients added to which our GI tract knows exactly how to process them.I have to say that to me, the caveman way of eating seems logical. We have been on the planet for 150,000 years and yet the agriculture revolution which introduced dairy & grain consumption in large quantities only arrived 10,000 years ago.
It might not be for everyone but if you feel lethargic, have health issues, live your days on the caffeine and carbs rollercoaster then this could make a real difference to both your energy levels and health. Why not try it for 30 days and see what happens? You’ve got nothing to lose apart from maybe a few kilos !