In order to achieve peak athletic performance and optimum health, an athlete must consider the type of food that they regularly consume. Dr. Loren Cordain is widely acknowledged as a leading expert on the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors and in numerous publications he has documented the dramatic health and performance benefits of eating a diet consistent with the foods that humans have been eating for most of their time on earth (hundreds of thousands of years).  An optimal “Paleo Diet”  is actually very simple and one that consists primarily of fruits, vegetables and lean animal protein. Our bodies are simply not well-adapted to a diet that consists of refined foods, trans fats, and sugar, which unfortunately makes up the bulk of what we see in the western diet today.

Reasons Why the Paleo Diet is Beneficial to Athletes:
(Further information: The Paleo Diet for Athletes)

High in Trace Nutrients: Vitamins and minerals are necessary for optimal health and long term recovery from exercise. The most  nutrient dense foods are fruits, vegetables and seafood.  On average, vegetables have nearly twice the nutrient density of grains.

Improves Metabolic Efficiency: Metabolic efficiency centers on the proper management of blood sugar. When blood sugar is consistently high from eating a diet high in refined carbohydrate and sugar, insulin levels increase. This inhibits the breakdown of fat. Through proper food selection and balancing macronutrient intake (eating mainly fruits, vegetables and lean meats) you can teach the body to oxidize fat at higher intensities. This will delay the accumulation of lactate, which means athletes will be able to maintain a higher power output or pace for a longer period of time.

Increases  Intake of branched  chain  amino acids  (BCAA): The benefits include increased muscle development and anabolic function. BCAAs also counteract immunosuppression, common in endurance athletes following extensive exercise.

Decreases the Omega-­6 to Omega-­3  ratio in the body: In a typical western diet the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is about 17:1, however an ideal ratio is about 2:1 or less. Decreasing this ratio reduces tissue inflammation common to athletes while promoting healing.

Lowers Body Acidity: This reduces the catabolic effect of acidosis on bone and muscle, while stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This is increasingly important with aging.

Adopting a Day Paleo Diet:

Eating a Paleo Diet can be better explained as a nutritional lifestyle than an actual “diet”. It’s a simple concept; eat the foods that most closely mimic what our ancestors consumed.

The following should comprise the bulk of your diet:
Grass Fed Animal Meats
Nuts and Seeds
Healthy Oils (Olive, Canola, Avocado, Flaxseed)

The following should be avoided:
Processed Foods and Sugars
Dairy (eggs are not dairy)
Trans Fats

Athletes should use the above guidelines to develop a nutritional lifestyle which should be followed the vast majority of the time. For athletes that are training more than 90 minutes per day and exercising at high intensities there are times when we need to bend the rules of the Paleo Diet. Since we are placing such a high demand on our body it may be beneficial to consume non-optimal foods immediately before, during, or immediately after exercise. Hours of sustained high energy output and the need for quick recovery are unique demands of the endurance athlete. In my next post I will discuss how and when to incorporate non-optimal foods and the 5 stages of eating outlined in The Paleo Diet for Athletes written by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel.

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Written by Kyle Visin
Santa Barbara Triathlon Club President
USAT Level 1 Coach
Certified CycleOps Power Coach
Co-Founder of KillerTri 

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