One of the main questions I hear all the time is how to do the paleo diet for athletes. It’s a good question. The paleo diet is very similar to a low-carb or ketogenic diet because the majority of the foods our ancestors would have eaten would have been mainly fats, animal protein, fruit and vegetables.
This is great for losing weight and feeling good if you’re not super active all day. But what if you expend lots of calories? What if you need tons of energy to play tennis, football, swim or run tracks? Is there a paleo diet for athletes? I believe that paleo for athletes can be a great idea. I’ll show you why and then provide you with a handy paleo diet food list for athletes.
Why Paleo Is Beneficial To Athletes
1. Paleo Provides Protein For Muscle Development And Maintenance
Paleo is naturally quite high in protein. Following the paleo diet often means making use of meats and fish like beef, chicken and tuna. These contain sizeable amounts of protein, which will help your muscles repair after a strenuous training session. They also include essential amino acids, minerals and nutrients to improve your recovery.
2. Paleo Provides Healthy Carbs
Contrary to popular belief, paleo doesn’t necessarily have to be a low-carb diet. It’s just often easier that way. But there are a few natural carb sources that the human body loves, like yams and sweet potatoes. These are nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates that will help replenish an athlete’s energy. You also get natural simple sugars from fruits, which replenish depleted glycogen stores. Then there’s the vegetables, which provide fiber and more healthy carbs.
3. Paleo Provides Healthy Fats
You get a lot of healthy fats in the paleo diet. Eggs, nuts and fish are just some examples that will make up the bulk of your eating. These fats contain omega-3 and help to reduce inflammation, improve recovery and boost mental and physical performance.
4. No Unnatural Food
Sure, some athletes will take energy drinks and wolf down fast food to get their calories in. But that has a real toll on the body and mind after a while. The paleo diet, on the other hand, is free of unnatural flavorings, artificial sweeteners and basically any stuff that our ancestors didn’t eat. You’ll recover faster and be able to get more out of your training and put more energy in.
Training Tips With Paleo
1. Make Smoothies
Instead of a protein shake filled with chemicals, you should start juicing fruits and vegetables and drinking these shakes before and after training to replenish depleted glycogen and provide energy. Beetroot juice is a great natural pre-workout because it helps improve oxygen flow around your body. As for a post-workout treat, try a kale shake with bananas and apples blended up.
2. Stick To Natural Movements
Paleo is a natural lifestyle. It’s not just about diet. It’s about being fully functional and healthy on all levels. As well as eating the foods our ancestors ate, you should do the movements our ancestors did. Run, swim, jump and stretch.
3. Prioritize Rest
This tip is applicable to all athletes but needs to be emphasised here. Our ancestors ate wild meat and raw vegetables, they ran and then they slept in a dark environment. You can replicate this and reap the benefits by turning your electronics off at least an hour before sleep and keep the bedroom reserved for rest.
4. Eat Enough
Many people are worried they will get too many calories from the fat and protein on the paleo diet. But with athletes, the opposite is a common problem. You have to really make sure you’re getting enough calories to build yourself back up. If you’re feeling lightheaded, lacking energy, getting ill frequently or your sex drive is taking a plummet, you might need to bump up the calories.
5. Keep It Simple
No need to get fancy. You need to replicate the same simple foods that you know you’ll love over and over again. This will keep the cost, both time and money, down. You should buy in bulk and even consider cooking all your meals on one day of the week so they’re ready to go.
6. Pre-Workout Nutrition
I recommend you eat low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as yams or sweet potatoes, around 2 hours before exercise. This will give you the fuel you need to perform without the sugar crash. You should also incorporate protein and fat into this meal and keep the fiber low.
7. Intra-Workout Nutrition
If your workout is intense or long (over an hour) you should take high-glycemic carbohydrates in liquid form. A sports drink will do the job for this and will ensure you replenish your glycogen stores.
8. Post Workout Nutrition
I suggest you take a recovery shake post-workout that has protein and carbs in a 1:2 ratio. Egg whites are a good source of liquid protein and you can get your sugar from a beet juice smoothie. Within an hour after the shake, you should have a meal with real food. An example meal would be salmon, sweet potato with coconut oil and broccoli.
Paleo Diet Food List For Athletes
The paleo diet for athletes requires you to eat the same foods as the paleo diet for non-athletes. The only difference is you’ll probably need more of these foods.
- Grass-fed meat: pork, beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, rabbit, goat, elk, bison, kangaroo, wild boar, ostrich, pheasant, buffalo.
- Fish: Tuna, salmon, cod, bass, red snapper, halibut, tilapia, mackerel, sardines, trout, shark, swordfish, walleye, sunfish, lobster, shrimp, crab, crayfish, clams, scallops, oysters, crawfish.
- Eggs: You want Omega-3, organic and free-range eggs here. Make sure you eat the yolks.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, beetroot, asparagus, avocado, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, celery, spinach, brussel sprouts, cabbage, parsley, butternut squash, yams, sweet potato,
- Fruits: Strawberries, bananas, grapes, apples, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, lemon, watermelon, lime, oranges, plums, peaches, papaya, mango, figs, lychee, pineapple, pears.
- Nuts: Brazil nuts, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, pecans,
- Oils/fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, ghee.
Paleo For Athletes: Book Reviews
There are quite a few books on the topic of paleo for athletes. These are my top three favorite books about the paleo diet for athletes:
This is one of the best books on the subject. It goes in depth on exactly what athletes need to know in regards to the paleo lifestyle. It debunks a bunch of myths and gives more great resources to investigate. It gets a bit heavy at times so this is only for the serious athlete.
This is a great practical resource for athletes following the paleo diet. Gaudreau goes in depth when explaining her rationale for certain choices and provides plenty of recipes that are not only full of nutrients but delicious too.
Rockridge Press have another great book on the subject of the paleo diet, called the “Paleo Cookbook”. But this one is geared more towards athletes and is a fantastic staple for anyone who needs to up their training while following the paleo diet.
There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about whether an athlete can follow the paleo diet and still train hard and compete. Now that you’re armed with some specific tips and I’ve pointed you in the direction of the best books, you’ll know that paleo is a very viable, even optimal, way for most athletes to train.
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