Athletes are always looking for the perfect diet—one that promises rapid weight loss and improved health, wellness and overall sports performance. In general, nutritional problems are caused by foods that humans have created, such as refined sugars and processed, fried and fatty foods. Recognizing this issue, Dr. Loren Cordain and a group of his colleagues created a diet that goes back to the dawn of man.
The Paleo Diet [referring to the Paleolithic Period] eschews any foods produced via agriculture or other human-devised processes, opting instead for meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. According to thepaleodiet.com:
These foods [fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and seafood] are high in the beneficial nutrients [soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates] that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients [refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates and processed foods] that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and numerous other health problems.
A Paleo diet might include grass-fed meat and chicken or organic fruits and vegetables; but it would forgo salt and any form of grain or dairy. This combination is ideal for losing weight, since it eliminates large sources of calories and fat; however, it may not be a good option for improving sports performance.
Athletes push their bodies to the max, conceivably for longer periods of time and at higher intensity than the cavemen. The Paleo Diet includes only foods provided by nature, but it may not factor in the extent to which athletes expend energy.
A Paleo Diet is not necessarily a bad thing for an athlete. It is an extremely healthy and natural nutrition plan, including excellent sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. But to make it more appropriate for sports performance, add whole grains and dairy. These energy-dense foods fuel your body for both immediate and sustained performance. In addition, high carbohydrate foods improve muscle recovery, and dairy is a critical source of calcium, which is essential for bone density.
If you are tempted to dive headfirst into the latest diet fad, remember it may not always be the best for sports performance. Check out STACK’s article on the pillars of nutrition to understand why energy consumption is the foundation for a successful athlete's diet.