Is the Paleo Diet Right for Athletes?
The Paleo Diet is designed to take you back to the prehistoric era, when there was no fast food, cookies, donuts, pizza, or frozen dinners. The cavemen survived solely on whole foods like meat and fish (lean protein), fruits and vegetables. Such a pure form of fueling can be helpful for athletes interested in cleaning up their diets and improving their athletic performance.
The Paleo Diet is simple. Rather than controlling portion sizes or ratios, it provides basic food guidelines, prescribing foods the cavemen ate—lean meat, fresh fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats—instead of cereals, grains, dairy products and processed foods. The Paleo Diet, supporters argue, is how we were genetically programmed to eat; and it reduces the risk of chronic disease, helps control bodyweight and contributes to improved performance.
Encouraged by CrossFit, the Paleo Diet is gaining favor with athletes. In his latest book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance, Dr. Loren Cordain argues that the Paleo Diet provides perfect fuel for athletes by supplying plenty of vitamin C, fiber, calcium, iron, foliate, and essential fatty acids, while reducing sugar, salt, and saturated fats. Nevertheless, some nutritionists have a problem with the carbohydrate intake of the Paleo Diet, since it does not allow for grains. In a recent Runner's World article, Dr. Cordain suggested that athletes can benefit from the Paleo Diet by getting their carbs through fruits and vegetables instead of starches.
Here are the seven guiding principles for the Paleo Diet Food List, outlined by Dr. Cordain:
1. Consume much more animal protein than the typical American diet.
2. Get good carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables instead of grains and refined sugars. Eat fewer carbohydrates than most modern diets recommend.
3. Eat a large amount of fiber from non-starchy fruits and vegetables.
4. Eat a moderate amount of fat, with more good (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats than bad (saturated) fats, and nearly equal amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fats.
5. Eat foods with high potassium content and low sodium content.
6. Aim for a diet with a net alkaline load (balanced pH level). The easiest way to achieve this is to get approximately a third of your daily calories from fruits and vegetables.
7. Eat foods rich in plant phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
If you decide to try the Paleo Diet to improve your performance on the field, take extra time to make sure you are eating a balanced diet to meet your carbohydrate, fat and protein goals. Start your caveman diet plan the right way by seeking guidance from a registered dietitian.