Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paleo Eating For Athletes

A few years ago I managed to gain weight that I lost in the past (isn't that usually the case) by eating too many processed carbs and simple sugars. I wasn't eating more than 1800 calories a day, I was running 70 miles a week and lifting 3x a week, but that old scientific formula of calories in and calories out just wasn't working for me. I joined Leanness Lifestyle and found that with Dave Greenwaldt guiding me I could learn about my eating and habits. Seems rather ridiculous for some of you I am sure. What? You need to learn about what food is doing to you? What your habits are? What you are addicted to? I know. I know.

After a few weeks it became quite apparent to Dave and then to myself, that I was addicted to sugar. Soon after that it was more than apparent, it was glaring. Each time I ate a processed carb (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal) I began to have horrendous cravings for sugars and processed carbs and again would begin to gain weight. I found that by eating a processed carb meal within 30 minutes of my workout, along with a fair amount of protein, I would not gain weight and I would be able to recover for my next workout. The protein along with the carb did not cause a spike of insulin and a crash, but a slow steady flow. I could eat one processed carb meal a day without gaining weight. Dave then suggested I purchase the book Paleo Eating For Athletes. With Dave guiding me through the Elite Mastery Program at Leanness Lifestyle and by eating Paleo for Athletes, I was able to lose the fat that I had gained.

Inside of this book I found scientific information to explain to me why eating the way that I was (one processed carb meal post workout) was allowing me to lose weight and to recover quickly.

I trimmed the 26 pounds from my body that I had gained, I was able to run many more races and workouts and able to recover quickly for the next run. This year I have run better than I ever have. This is a product of recovering from training, running at a lighter weight and being stronger than ever, all from changing my diet. It has to be, doesn't it?

In talking with one of my clients last week I was surprised to learn that she had never heard of Paleo, nor of Paleo Eating for Athletes. I wanted to post a "cliff notes" version to begin this conversation so you all know what it is I am referring to.

Here is a version from Joe Friel (world renowned endurance of Triathletes Training Bible, Going Long, as well as co-author of Paleo Eating for Athletes and many others).
Although it is now the 21 st century, athletes still have Old Stone
Age (Paleolithic) bodies. There has been no significant change in the human genome in the past 10,000 years. Physiologically speaking, we are still Paleolithic athletes.
The basic premise of Dr. Cordain’s research on paleolithic nutrition is that certain foods are optimal for humans and others are non optimal.
The optimal foods are those that we have been eating for most of our time on Earth—more than 4 million years. Only in the last 10,000 years, a mere blink of the eye relative to our species’ existence, have we been eating non optimal foods. Unfortunately, these foods comprise the bulk of what western society eats today and include such foods as
grains, dairy and legumes. Given that our bodies have not changed, we are simply not well adapted to these non optimal foods and they moderate health and peak performance.
On the other hand, we have been eating optimal foods – vegetables, fruits, and lean animal protein – for hundreds of thousands of years and we are fully adapted to them. Science tells us that these foods also best meet our nutritional needs. Eat these and you will thrive. Avoid or strictly limit them and your health and performance will be compromised.
Serious athletes, however, when it comes to immediately before, during, and directly after workouts, need to bend the rules of the Paleo Diet a bit since we're placing demands on the body that were not normal for our Stone Age ancestors. Hour after hour of sustained high energy output and the need for quick recovery are the serious athlete’s unique demands. This requires some latitude to use non optimal foods on a limited basis. The exceptions may best be described by explaining the athlete’s 5
stages of daily eating relative to exercise.
Stage I: Eating Before Exercise
In brief, we recommend that athletes eat low to moderate glycemic index
carbohydrates at least two hours prior to a hard or long workout or race. There may also be some fat and protein in this meal. All foods should be low in fiber. Take in 200 to 300 calories for every hour remaining until exercise begins. If eating two hours prior is not possible, then take in 200 or so calories 10 minutes before the workout or race begins. *Hammergel or Hammerheed*

Stage II: Eating During Exercise

During long or hard workouts and races you will need to take in high glycemic index carbohydrates mostly in the form of fluids. Sports drinks are fine for this. Find one that you like the taste of and will drink willingly. Realize that events lasting less than about an hour (including warmup)
don’t require any carbohydrate. Water will suffice for these. A starting point for deciding how much to take in is 200 to 400 calories per
hour modified according to body size, experience and the nature of the exercise (longer events require more calories than short).
Stage III: Eating Immediately After
In the first 30 minutes postworkout (but only after long and/or highly intense exercise) and postrace use a recovery drink that contains both carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 ratio. Make your own by blending 16
ounces of fruit juice with a banana, 3 to 5 tablespoons of glucose (such as CarboPro) depending on body size, about 3 tablespoons of protein powder, especially from egg or prior is not possible. * I usually bring Recoverite to the race venue and just shake with water, which doesn't taste too great, or blend juice, banana, Hammer Whey and bring along in a cooler from home.* This 30minute window is critical for recovery. It should be your highest priority after a hard workout or race.
Stage IV: Eating for Extended Recovery
For the next few hours (as long as the preceding challenging exercise lasted) continue to focus your diet on carbohydrates, especially moderate to high glycemic load carbohydrates along with protein at a 4:
1 carb -protein ratio. Now is the time to eat nonoptimal
foods such as pasta, bread, bagels, rice, corn and other foods rich in
glucose as they contribute to the necessary carbohydrate recovery process. Perhaps the perfect Stage IV foods are raisins, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams. *This is when I eat my 1 carb meal. I bring along yams and raisins with a tuna pouch or if I am at home I'll eat an oatmeal pancake or fortified french toast.*
Stage V: Eating for Long Term Recovery

For the remainder of your day, or until your next Stage I, return to eating a Paleo Diet by focusing on optimal foods: low g i fruits, veggies and lean proteins, the good fats.

The macro nutrient requirement changes with the demands of the training season and so should be periodized along with training. We recommend that athletes maintain a rather consistent protein intake year round. As a percentage of total calories this will typically be in the range of 30- 35% for athletes. This is on the low end of what our
Stone Age ancestors ate due to the athlete’s increased intake of carbohydrate in Stages I to IV which dilutes protein as a percentage of daily calories. On the other hand, periodization of diet produces significant and opposing swings in the athlete’s fat and carbohydrate intake as the training seasons change. During the base (general preparation) period the diet shifts toward an increased intake of fat
while carbohydrate intake decreases. At this time in the season when a purpose of training is to promote the body’s use of fat for fuel, more healthy fat is consumed—in the range of 30% of total calories—with carbohydrate intake at around 50%. During the build and peak (specific preparation) periods the intensity of training increases
placing greater demands on the body for carbohydrate to fuel exercise. At this latter time of the season Stages III and IV become increasingly critical to the athlete’s recovery. Carbohydrate intake increases accordingly to around 60% of total calories with fat intake dropping to around 20%. During times of the year when training is greatly reduced (peaking/tapering and transition periods) the athlete must limit caloric intake to prevent unwanted weight gain.
Health and fitness are not synonymous. Unfortunately, many athletes are fit but unhealthy. Frequent illness, injury and overtraining reduce performance potential. The Paleo Diet for Athletes significantly improves health long term. Compared with the commonly accepted athlete’s diet, the Paleo Diet:
● Increases intake of branched chain amino acids (BCAA). Benefits muscle
development and anabolic function. Also counteracts autoammunosuppression common
in endurance athletes following extensive exercise.
● Decreases omega6: omega3
ratio. Reduces tissue inflammations common to
athletes while promoting healing. This may include asthmatic conditions common in athletes.
● Lowers body acidity. Reduces the catabolic effect of acidosis on bone and muscle while stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This is increasingly important with aging.
● Is high in trace nutrients. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for optimal health and long term
recovery from exercise. The most nutrient dense foods are
vegetables and seafood. On average, vegetables have nearly twice the nutrient density of grains.
That was long but to the point. Obviously so many runners are able to eat a diet that consists of 80% carbohydrate and not gain a pound and recover just fine, but not all of us are created that way.
My food logs show that with one processed carb meal a day I still eat a diet that consists of 40% calories from protein, 40% from carbs (fruits and veggies mainly) and 20% fat. At certain times of the year my fat is increased to 30-40% of my total calories. This is a far cry from the way I began to eat when I first began to run. I had read over and over, each month in Runners World that a runner should eat bagels, pasta and breads, creating a diet obtaining 60-70% of its calories from processed carbohydrates.
I am surprised that this way of eating is now second nature to me. I no longer crave the sugars or sweets on a daily (or hourly!) basis. I do have times when I hear the bag of chocolate crying out my name from the cupboard. I wonder if I began to get a bit cocky when I was creating desserts every other day with Dorie. I wonder if I wanted to see how long I could stay away from sugar? It was a good feeling..knowing that I could bake and not eat a whole dessert..but it was becoming dangerous, like I was sabotaging myself. Or, maybe I just had more time on my hands during summer vacation and loved the book of desserts. I now liken it to what it could be like if I decided to get a job at a bar. Oh good Lord please stop me if I decide to take on that challenge!


Mark H. said...

Hi Julie,

I'm planning to get the Paleo book soon. Thanks for posting this info. I crave sugars and it's hard to taper off them.

I have a question about stages III and IV. I've heard of ratios of carbs to protein of 4:1. I see you typed 45:1. Was this meant to read 4:1 or 5:1?


Julie B said...

Hi Mark, thanks for the heads up on the type-o. 4-1. I'll go and correct it!

Jumper 2.0 said...

Hi Julie,

I was going to recommend that exact book when you sent me an email a couple weeks ago. I hadn't replied yet, as I'm still trying to catch up from vacation.

I haven't talked about the diet much because of two reasons. One is that I have not been following it too well (would a sugar addiction possibly be why?;-)
And secondly talking about food and diet is much akin to talking about politics and religion. People do not like to hear that they might not being eating the way they possibly should be (unless its the obvious, like Haagen-Dasz or something).

I attribute the Paleo diet for at least 1/2 the weight I have lost since February (>30#) and even though I haven't stuck to it well, I have followed it basic principles of good protein and high nutrient dense foods. Therefore, I am only up 5 pounds from my June accident of a broken scapula and clavicle.

Do you get the "Paleo Diet Update" from
I recommend it.

Now, if I could only stay away from those damn chocolate cookies and almond snickers.

Cliff said...


This is a great post. Thanks for the update. I did some poleo diet a while back. I figure it is time to go back to the book and 'refine' my diet better.

Damon said...


I fully agree with what you've written here. My diet is based on the Paleo diet and on Precision Nutrition, and I went to Western States this year at my lowest body fat percentage ever for an ultra.

I agree that eating carbs simply makes me want more carbs. It's a bad cycle to get into.

I still have one other dietary vice (that you don't have) that interferes with me getting my weight even lower. I'm just not ready to take that final step yet though.

I also think that lifting heavy with free weights has helped my running and my body fat percentage quite a bit.


Runner Susan said...

We are so much built alike and I think I'd benefit from this. I've tried this before and failed. My husband and I are pasta junkies.

How do you break the habit?