Paleo Nutrition and Performance Training

Do the two go hand in hand?

Yes and no.

First things first, it’s important to define what exactly ‘Paleo’ means when you ask the question, because depending on who you talk to, you may get conflicting points of view.

Paleo can easily seem like it has about 15 different versions.

There are varied opinions depending on whom you ask.

Whatever the ‘nitty gritty’ differences are  in each, there is no getting around the primary principal of Paleolithic eating: Eat real food.

According to Dr. Loren Cordain, one of the world’s leading experts on Paleo, “The Paleo Diet is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago.”

No ‘ifs, ands or buts’ about it, ‘Paleo eating’ is essentially all about sticking as close as possible to foods with one ingredient (itself). In order to do so: Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoid anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce, and opt for quality food sources in their most original form.

These foods include: fresh meats, preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat, fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils including olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed.

Dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods, however, were not part of our ancestral menu.

And while you avoid some foods, the Paleo diet is not about eliminating entire food groups. You need a balance of foods represented from all major food groups: Meat and protein, essential fats, and carbs included.

Yes. Carbs.

In terms of Paleo and performance, the most common ‘problems’ you see people with Paleo, or rather, their misconceptions of Paleo nutrition, is avoiding carbs, or eating very low carbs.

While fats and proteins are highly touted on the ‘caveman diet’; If you want to enhance your performance and train like an athlete, carbs are a necessary part of that equation.

That being said, is it really possible (or even necessary) for an athlete to adhere to a Paleolithic-based diet?

Before answering that question, we must define what type of fitness and athlete we are talking about.

For the purposes of this article, we are specifically talking about a Paleo diet’s role in a glycogen-depleting sport like CrossFit, or these outlets: endurance events and Iron Man competition.

There are two avatars to this equation:

·      The everyday gym goer and/or fitness enthusiast (a client or “student” of fitness); and,

·      The athlete

For those who enjoy training and working towards improving themselves daily in the gym, but are not necessarily on the road to the Games, a Paleolithic-based diet, centered around real whole foods can absolutely fit into the equation.

And while perfection is not the expectation here, the majority of this person’s intake should consist of real protein, lots of veggies (particularly greens), healthy fats, and a moderate amount of starch (such as starchy vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes).

Depending on their tolerance as well, some clients may very well benefit from properly prepared foods, such as rice and oats, particularly surrounding their training goals.

As for protein shakes? They are not necessary, particularly if a person is allergic to dairy (whey or casein), or using them as a meal replacement support. However, if it is preferred, in general, a quality protein powder (such as that from Revive foods) paired with some carbs post-workout, won’t hurt someone to replenish energy stores.

On the other hand, for athletes,

[true performance athletes, wherein competition (or working towards competition) is their goal], a Paleolithic diet is not the end all, be all to support a person’s nutrition. However, if they are eating a substantial amount of carbohydrates to support recovery and training, the Paleo diet is also not off the table.

More often than not though, an intake of some non-Paleo sources of fuel (think Gatorade powder post-workout to immediately replace sugar stores lost and regulate cortisol levels) is going to need to fit into the equation. The same can be said about protein powders. There is a time and a place for these, and around training (particularly if a person is performing more than one session, or in the gym for hours at a time), a protein powder most certainly is not going to do harm for that individual.

Here is an example of what a competitor’s intake may look like, with the base being a Paleolithic diet:

Training Day

Before Training: Greens First, Max Fiber, Fish Oil, Vitamin D, Probiotic, 2 cups Black coffee

Breakfast: (Post Workout Meal) 2 cups Berries, ½ Avocado, 5 Wellshire Pork Sausage Patties, 2 Eggs

Pre-Workout: Black coffee, B-Complex

During Training: 40 g. Carbs (Gatorade)

PWO: Revive protein powder (80 g Carbs, 40 g Protein), 5 g Creatine

4 pm Snack: ½ lb Salami, 1 Cup Green Beans, Avocado Chips

7 pm Dinner- ½ c. Guacamole with celery sticks, 4 Small Bone-in Chicken Thighs, 1 Large Sweet potato roasted in coconut oil, 2 cups Roasted Broccoli in Olive Oil

Before Bed: 3 g Fish Oil, Probitoics, ZMA


Running/Endurance & Gym Training Day

Before Training: Greens First, Max Fiber, Fish Oil, Vitamin D, Probiotic, Adrenal Support, 20 oz. Black Coffee

Breakfast: (Post Running Meal) 1 Hot Pork Sausage, 1 Orange, ½ cup Guacamole, 3 Eggs

During Training: AMARA Beverage (8 g carbs), 5 g Creatine, Green Energy Drink

PWO: Revive protein powder (80 g Carbs, 40 g Protein), 5 g Creatine

3:45 pm Meal: 8 oz. Chicken Thighs, 2 Cups cooked asparagus, tomatoes & mushroom salad with olive oil, 1 cup Tumeric  spiced potatoes

7 pm Dinner- 1 c. Papaya salad, 1 c .Beef salad, 1 c. Beef Curry, 1 c. Sticky rice, 1 c. Lamb Curry (Thai food out)

Before Bed: 3 g Fish Oil, Probitoics, ZMA

Rest Day

Before Breakfast: Greens First, Max Fiber, Fish Oil, Vitamin D, Probiotic, B-Complex, 2 cups Black coffee

Breakfast: (Post Workout Meal) 1.5 cups Berries, ½ Avocado, 1 Wellshire Turkey Sausage Patty, 2 Eggs, 6 oz. Ground Beef

Lunch: 6-8 oz Ground beef, 2 cups Roasted Broccoli in olive oil, ½ c. Macadamia nuts

3 pm Snack: 5 oz. Steak, ½ cup Guacamole

7 pm Dinner- 4 Celery Stalks, 1 Cup Guacamole, 14 oz. Flank Steak, 1.5 Large Sweet potato roasted in coconut oil, 2 .5cups Roasted Broccoli in Olive Oil

Before Bed: 3 g Fish Oil, Probitoics, ZMA

As you can see, the bulk of this athlete’s nutrients come from real, whole foods, with the additions of supplemental support and sports-performance nutrition to enhance their performance and recovery.

Lastly, a question that often comes up in light of popular athletes seemingly ‘getting away’ with non-real food sources, is:

What about other foods, like donuts, breads, pizza, and ice cream? “Cheat meals”? (Why do individuals really need a cheat meal? Think about it…)

Not always off the table.

If we are talking serious athlete, these individuals are on the ‘verge’ of sickness, and the level of training they are doing is actually not always the healthiest. At some point, any food—particularly fast acting sugars—are quickly and easily assimilated by the body. At competitions, for instance, many athletes find easily digested fuel in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a Lara bar, or meal-replacement shake, to keep going. For these individuals: A little dirt never hurt may certainly apply.

The bottom line?

Real food always does a body good—especially for the majority of the training population, but when it comes to being an athlete and competing at the highest, elite level in a glycogen-depleting sport (like MMA, CrossFit, etc.), a Paleolithic diet is not the end all, be all.

Be realistic of where you sit; and eat appropriately, because when you do, you will see results. Fuel the machine.

James FitzGerald

Fitness Assessments for New Clients