The Athlete's Plan for the Paleo Diet

December 3, 2012 | Brian Lebo

Must See Nutrition Videos

It's been dubbed "the perfect new diet," but the Paleo diet has been around for centuries. It's called the caveman diet, because it mimics what our prehistoric ancestors ate: fish, meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts—long before humans began to cultivate grains and legumes, and before we started eating dairy products, refined salt, refined sugar and processed oils.

Last week, a standout swimmer whom I train asked me about "going Paleo." Her swim coach was strongly recommending it "to improve her energy level." This sent up a red flag, because first of all, I would never encourage an athlete to make a dramatic change in her diet during her sport season—unless she had a significant deficiency and a definite link could be demonstrated between diet and performance. Generally, in-season is not the time to experiment.

However, the Paleo diet comes with guidelines that include making allowances for athletes, especially regarding carb sources like bread, rice and pasta. Rather than adopting an extreme version of the Paleo diet, you might want to try a more reasonable, modified approach.

The Paleo Diet for Athletes

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the dietary focus for most athletes, so instead of eliminating them entirely, eat them in moderation—and make sure they are "clean carbs," like high-fiber whole grains and fruit. Get rid of the processed, refined stuff, and minimize or avoid fried foods. In the off-season, carbs should make up about 50% of your total calories, but in-season at least 60%.

Protein

All year, your consumption of protein should be 20 to 25% of all calories. Although the Paleo diet excludes dairy, I am not in favor of it, because low-fat dairy products provide easily absorbed, quality protein (essential for muscle recovery and repair), along with other beneficial nutrients, like calcium. Overall, keep your non-dairy protein lean and healthy.

Fats

How much fat you consume should be based on your training schedule. During the off-season, about 30% of your total calories should come from fat, reduced to 20% in-season. Stick with mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil, peanut butter, and salmon.

5 Stages for Athletes

  • Stage 1: before exercise
  • Stage 2: during exercise, focused on energizing and fueling muscles for sustained, high-level output
  • Stages 3-5 : short- to long-term post-exercise meals, designed for recovery

Stage 1: low-fiber carbs prior to training or competition
Stage 2: (preferably liquid) carbs during training or competition
Stage 3: carb/protein (3:1 ratio) within 30 minutes after training or competition
Stage 4: meal including "clean" carbs (pasta, bread, rice) and lean protein in the hours following training or competition
Stage 5: balanced, nutritious meals for long-term recovery, in the days following training or competition

(See also Eat Like a Caveman to Lose Weight and Improve Performance? and The Paleo Diet Leaves Athletes Powerless.)

Photo: smart-diner.com

Topics: DIET
Brian Lebo
- Brian Lebo is the owner and director of Athletic Performance Training Center, a strength and conditioning facility in North Royalton, Ohio. He specializes in helping...
Brian Lebo
- Brian Lebo is the owner and director of Athletic Performance Training Center, a strength and conditioning facility in North Royalton, Ohio. He specializes in helping...

Featured Videos

Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Views: 152,523
Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Views: 80,168
Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Views: 1,267,361
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,450,145
Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied
Views: 12,117,693
Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout
Views: 895,904
Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,217
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,501,255

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

How to Eat Healthy at a Dingy Sports Bar

How to Eat Healthy at a Dingy Sports Bar

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

The Boston Cannons' ‘Keep It Real’ Eating Plan

The Boston Cannons' 'Keep It Real' Eating Plan

9 Foods to Eat When You Want to Lose Fat

9 Foods to Eat When You Want to Lose Fat

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

Registered Dietitians Reveal Their Favorite Ways to Eat Fruit

Registered Dietitians Reveal Their Favorite Ways to Eat Fruit

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

What to Eat If You Hate Bananas

What to Eat If You Hate Bananas

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

YardBarker