If you decided to start running to lose weight, then you may have also been tempted to try a diet or eating plan to help drop unwanted pounds. And you may have been enticed by the Paleo Diet. Are you wondering how well it will fuel your training?
The Paleo Diet has been reported to be a favourite of many famous celebrities, including Uma Thurman, Megan Fox, Jessica Biel, and Matthew McConaughey. Although mostly promoted to help people become healthy and live longer, many people who go on this diet also drop pounds and reduce body fat.
WHAT IS THE PALEO DIET?
The Paleo Diet, also called the “Caveman Diet,” is named after the Paleolithic Period, which ended about 10,000 years ago. The premise of the diet is that we should eat as our caveman ancestors would have eaten, and keep away from processed foods that wouldn’t have existed thousands of years ago. The diet entails eating more protein, more fibre, and fewer carbs, and moderate to high consumption of healthy fats. The diet includes foods and nutrients we would have eaten prior to the agricultural revolution, dating back thousands of years when we began to settle, growing and cultivating crops and animals. This means that cereals, grains, pulses and dairy products are removed from the diet, together with processed foods, including preservatives, dyes, salts and sugars.
In essence, the idea of eating clean and well is something that needs to be promoted. Although as with any diet, we can lose the health benefits if we don’t eat a balanced diet.
WHAT CAN YOU EAT?
Foods you can eat include meat like lamb, beef, chicken and turkey, and fish such as trout, salmon, shrimp, mackerel, and shellfish. You can also eat free-range eggs, while vegetable choices include kale, broccoli, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and carrots. Healthy fats are fine, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado, along with some seeds and nuts. You can eat fruit including bananas, apples, pears, oranges, blueberries, and strawberries.
WHAT CAN’T YOU EAT?
As the diet eliminates processed foods, sugars and salty foods, it means cutting out grains such as breads, porridge, wheat and pastas, most dairy, vegetable oils, trans fats (found in margarines and processed foods) and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, present in diet drinks. Simply cutting out sugar can help with weight loss. While it’s true that your body burns sugar for energy, excessive sugar consumption means your liver will reach a limit in terms of how much it can store. When the liver is full, the excess is converted into fatty acids. These fats are returned to your bloodstream and stored as fat. So an eating plan that promotes eliminating sugar can be effective for dropping pounds.
IS THE DIET SUITABLE FOR RUNNERS?
Yes it is, though it may take you a while to adapt to a new way of eating. Unfortunately, from birth we are fed refined carbs at regular intervals throughout the day. From breakfast cereals and baby rice to pasta dishes and sandwiches – our bodies have been trained to use ingested carbs for energy.
WHAT ABOUT CARBOHYDRATES?
If you’re running very long distances like marathons or ultras then you may be concerned about trying the Paleo Diet, as you’re cutting out carbohydrates, like pasta, that many runners typically use for energy. Even though it eliminates carbohydrates from grains and legumes it does allow you to eat fruit and unlimited vegetables, which will provide some good, slow releasing carbs. This makes it a more balanced and sustainable diet than others that exclude grains such as the old style Atkins Diet.
It’s important to ensure you’re consuming a balanced diet with enough carbohydrates, especially if you’re training very hard.
So what’s a sufficient carbohydrate intake?
By way of example, if you are running five to six times a week for an hour each time, you should consume about 6g per kg of body weight of carbohydrates. This means if you weigh 9 stones (just over 57kg), you would need to consume about 340g of carbs daily (57 x 6).
Monitor your energy levels and see how you feel. As you start building up some serious mileage, it’s recommendable to increase carb intake to 7-8g per kg of bodyweight.
Many serious athletes get great results while following the diet. Although the Paleo Diet is lower in carbohydrates than some eating plans, it’s not a low-carb diet as such. Paleo is often said to be a low-carb diet however it’s more about getting your carbs from vegetables and fruits so that your blood sugar becomes more balanced.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS
In addition, there is a variety of other benefits to the Paleo Diet that many runners may not have thought of. These include …
- More stable blood sugar levels
The more stable your blood sugar, the more possible it is for you to have a constant release of energy. Being high in fibre and low in carbohydrates, the Paleo Diet is excellent for regulating the amount of sugar that’s in your blood stream at any time. Regulating your blood sugar levels can help with energy throughout the day, as well as helping with weight loss.
- Stronger immune system
The Paleo Diet can also boost your immune system because of high doses of vitamins and antioxidants consumed. Eating clean and healthy, nutrient-rich, unprocessed meats, fish, vegetables and healthy fats will result in improved muscle recovery after training. Keep in mind that exercise puts the body under greater stress. The cleaner you eat, the greater the body’s ability to become stronger and healthier, which can help with athletic performance.
- Reduced inflammation
Consuming healthy, unprocessed meats, fish and vegetables will help to reduce inflammation after a run. In addition, it will also improve digestion and absorption of nutrients.
HOW STRICT SHOULD YOU BE?
How strict you are with the Paleo Diet during training is a personal decision. On longer training runs, many of us would usually fuel our bodies with energy gels or energy drinks, which of course contain sugar. Instead of this, try eating natural foods like dates or honey, although these are harder to consume on the move. During marathon training, you may choose to deviate slightly from the Paleo Diet and consume energy gels or energy drinks to give you that confidence in your ability to keep going, especially if you’ve tried them beforehand and know they fuel you properly. The occasional deviation is certainly not going to stop you from following the Paleo Diet in general and reaping the benefits in the long term.