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Paleo Diet, Modified for Endurance Athletes

from Rich Straus - Crucible Fitness

I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Loren Cordain present his Paleo Diet at my Ultrafit training weekend.  As some of you may know, his theories have been getting a lot attention among endurance athletes, largely due to Gordo’s active participation in the discussion.  The following is my long over-due nutrition advice to you, based on personal experience, discussions with Ellen and the UF coaches, and Dr Cordain’s presentation.  I will break this down to the most essential elements, then we can discuss the particulars.

Body Composition
Focus on achieving your optimal body composition (% fat to % muscle), not a goal weight.  Optimal body composition yields a healthy balance between performance and recovery: too much fat or muscle mass decreases performance, as you must lug it around the course.  Too lean decreases your recovery, as your body suffers from an extremely low % body fat.

Rather than avoid foods, make good food choices
Your key to achieving optimal body composition is focusing on making good food choices, rather than avoiding foods. Focus on what to eat vs what NOT to eat.  This is a subtle but critical difference.

Apply the Geekometer to your diet: How geeked-out to do you need (or want) to be?
Form a realistic plan based on what you know about your ability to follow through with a nutritional plan.  Set realistic expectations for yourself.  Remember that an 80% plan executed with conviction and consistency is better than a 100% plan poorly executed.  Dont beat yourself up if you slip from time to time.  Do the best you can.

Paleo Diet
  I condense the Paleo Diet to these ideas:

  • As homo sapiens, we are genetically adapted to a hunter gatherer diet.  The introduction of domesticated animals, agriculture, and processed foods are very recent developments in the scope of evolutionary history.  As such, our bodies are not adapted to a diet derived from these technological development.

  • A proper homo sapien diet replicates the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

To follow this diet,

  1. Eat plenty of lean meats (fish, poultry, lean beef, wild game)
  2. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  3. Avoid dairy
  4. Avoid starches and sugars (breads, grains, etc)
  5. Avoid processed foods.

Paleo Diet, Endurance Athlete Modified
Dr Condain says that we are genetically suited for this diet.  However, our ancient ancestors seldom did 2 hour runs and 6 hour bikes.  Certainly, they had periods of intense activity, but these where relatively brief and spaced apart. This diet is not well-suited to the needs of endurance athletes: to fuel optimum performance and recovery, so the activity can be repeated after a relatively short time, again and again.

Dr Cordain recognized this in his presentation.  In fact, he and Joe are working on a book that will adapt the ideas of the Paleo Diet to the needs of endurance athletes.  This is where Gordo’s ideas are particularly valuable.  He has begun to apply the Paleo Diet and has modified it to serve the unique requirements of endurance athletes. 

Gordo distills these ideas to what he calls the Key Three:

  1. Majority of nutrition from whole fruits, lean protein and fresh veggies.
  2. Starch and sugar only during and after training.
  3. Eliminate as much processed food as possible.

#2 is the break from the strict Paleo Diet, in order to satisfy the need to quickly replace glycogen stores after exercise.  This ensures the athlete is ready to repeat the activity within a relatively short time.

In summary, I’ll present the Team Crucible Six:

  1. Focus on achieving an optimal body composition that is a good balance between performance and recovery.
  2. Make good food choices rather than avoid foods.
  3. Make a plan, and measure it with the Geekometer.  Do the best you can to follow your plan, not beating yourself if you stumble from time to time.
  4. Get the majority of your nutrition from whole fruits, lean protein and fresh veggies.
  5. Limit starch and sugar to during and after training.
  6. Eliminate as much processed food as possible.
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