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Authors: Loren Cordain,Joe Friel

The Paleo Diet for Athletes

BOOK: The Paleo Diet for Athletes
5.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




Chapter 1. The Diet Revolution

Part I.
The Road Map to Peak Performance and Health

Chapter 2. Stage I: Eating Before Exercise

Chapter 3. Stage II: Eating During Exercise

Chapter 4. Stages III, IV, and V: Eating After Exercise

Part II.
Nutrition 101: Understanding Basic Concepts

Chapter 5. Food as Fuel During Exercise

Chapter 6. Fitness and Food

Chapter 7. Overtraining and Diet

Part III.
Our Stone Age Legacy

Chapter 8. Why Eat Like a Caveman?

Chapter 9. The 21st-Century Paleo Diet

Chapter 10. The Paleolithic Athlete: The Original Cross-Trainer

Part IV.
Putting It into Practice

Chapter 11. The Training Table

Chapter 12. Paleo Recipes



About the Authors



First, I want to thank my coauthor, Dr. Loren Cordain, for introducing me to the Paleo Diet in 1995. In doing so, he forever changed the way I train athletes and improved the health and well-being not only of me but also of my family and friends. What I have learned from Loren has done more to improve my ongoing athletic performance than anything else I’ve done with my training in the last 20 years. I still view our chance meeting and subsequent conversations as we became good friends as turning points in my life.

Second, I want to thank the scores of athletes I have coached—from novice to Olympian—who allowed me to change their diets in order to refine the concepts you will read about here. Chief among them is Dirk Friel, my son, who continues to offer valuable feedback on the relationship between his high-level training for bike racing and his diet. And, finally, I want to thank Joyce, my wife of 46 years, for her assistance with many of the recipes included here and for allowing me the freedom to tinker in her kitchen and to get up at 4:00 a.m. to research and write about things that fascinate me.


On a beautiful spring morning about 20 years ago, I went out for an early-morning run on the deserted roads and trails above Fort Collins, Colorado. About 2 miles into my 7-mile run, I noticed a lean silhouette following me about a half mile behind. Being somewhat competitive in those days, I picked up the tempo and expected to shake this lone runner. Nothing doing; he picked up the pace as well. After another mile, I
put it into high gear, expecting to bury this upstart. Unbelievably, this unknown figure had managed to close the distance to less than 200 yards. By the end of the run, we were both in full sprint. As I was totally spent at the end of my run, Joe passed me and said, “Good morning!” I want to thank my coauthor for encouraging me to write this book in a slightly gentler manner than he pushed me on that Colorado spring morning. Finally, I want to thank my wife, Lorrie, and my three sons, Kyle, Kevin, and Kenny, for putting up with all of the lost weekends and late evenings needed to make this book happen.


Information on the topic of nutrition for athletes has been on the market for the better part of the past century. It’s interesting to note the changes that have occurred in such advice. For example, in 1945, Coach Willie Honeman offered the following dietary suggestions for bike racers:

The question of food and what to eat is one that would take much space to cover. A good rule of thumb is to eat whatever foods appeal to you, but be sure they are of good quality and fresh. Avoid too many starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes, pies, pastries, etc. Eat plenty of green and cooked vegetables.
—Willie Honeman, in
American Bicyclist,

Contrast Honeman’s suggestions with what two modern cycling authorities proposed to athletes.

Carbohydrate supplementation is essential to meet the needs of heavy training. Greater portions of pasta, potatoes, and breads can help, but many athletes may prefer the concentrated carbohydrate found in “high-carbohydrate drinks.” Such products as Ultra Fuel, Exceed High-Carbohydrate Source, and Gatorlode are used to generate additional carbohydrate intake without the bulk of solid food.
—Edmund Burke, PhD, and Jacqueline Berning, PhD, RD, in
Training Nutrition,

These selections illustrate what has happened to the logic of coaches, athletes, and even sports scientists since the 1970s. The current thinking is that athletes should load up on carbohydrate continuously, even to the extent of supplementing their diets with commercial products while avoiding “real” foods. The shift away from “good quality and fresh” foods, especially fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins, is widespread in the athletic world. Such a shift, while beneficial in terms of glycogen stores, which are necessary for performance—especially in endurance events—overlooks the necessity of eating foods that are also rich in other nutrients. This conventional viewpoint not only has negative consequences for health but also compromises an athlete’s capacity for recovery and subsequent quality of training.

The Paleo Diet for Athletes,
we propose that this trend must be reversed and that the optimal model for the athlete is the same one that we as
Homo sapiens
have thrived on for nearly all of our existence on the planet—a Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, diet, albeit one slightly modified to meet the unique demands of athletes.

The Paleo Diet is somewhat higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrate, relative to what sports nutritionists encourage American athletes to eat. But the greatest differences in what we propose here may be found in the timing of carbohydrate and protein ingestion, especially branched-chain amino acids; selecting foods based on glycemic load at certain times relative to training; the base-enhancing effects of our diet on blood and other body fluids; and periodization of diet in parallel with training. All of this means that you will recover faster and perform better by following our program: the Paleo Diet for Athletes. We’ve seen it happen in athlete after athlete for the past 15 years.

What we propose here is not intended as a quick-fix weight-loss diet, although many of the athletes who have converted to it have reduced their excess fat stores. The dietary strategies we offer are intended for health and performance enhancement.

Performance is obvious, but why health enhancement? Unfortunately, many athletes are not truly healthy, despite being magnificently fit. Health and fitness do not always go hand in hand.

High volumes of training, often exceeding 2 hours per day, play havoc on the human immune system when it is not given adequate nutrients for renewal in the hours following training. A daily diet top-heavy in starch, especially from a single source such as grains, is bound to leave the athlete’s body starved for protein and many trace nutrients. The Paleo Diet for Athletes satisfies those demands daily.

Although heavily based upon science and thoroughly tested and honed in the real world of athletics, the value of eating much as our prehistoric ancestors ate is not generally accepted at face value by some scientists or athletes, as it flies in the face of much that we have been taught to believe about diet. When one suggests eating in this manner, many arguments against it are proposed. You may also be experiencing some healthy skepticism at this point—and some skepticism is a good thing. In order for you to continue reading this book in a more open manner, we need to address the most common of these concerns.


Some of the most widespread, intuitive counterarguments against the Paleo Diet are that “they [hunter-gatherers] died at an early age” and thus “didn’t live long enough to develop heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.” Consequently, “they really were not healthier or fitter than modern people.”

If you have bought into the first statement, then you are absolutely correct. There is no doubt that the average life span of hunter-gatherers and Stone Age people was quite short, compared with our own. Case in point: The average age of Neanderthals has been estimated at 12 to 15 years; pre-European-contact American Indians, 20 to 25 years. Today, US women live to age 79; men to 72. It should be pointed out, though, that “average life span” is a misleading term. In reality, average life span is nothing more than the average age at death for an entire population; it tells us zilch about the age and health characteristics of individual, living
people. For example, if two parents lived to the ages of 79 and 72, were healthy for most of their adult lives, and had two children who died at birth, the average life span of this group of four people ([79 + 72 + 0 + 0]/4) would be 37.7 years. On the surface, based upon the low average life span, it would appear that all people in this group were not very healthy.

In order to more accurately portray a population’s age and health characteristics, scientists have devised what are called life tables—charts that show the entire living population by age group, not just the people who have died. In a study of more than 450 !Kung hunter-gatherers in Botswana, life tables revealed that 10 percent of the population was age 60 and older. But more important, the aged populations in hunter-gatherer societies are virtually free of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other chronic diseases that are near-universal afflictions of the elderly in Western societies. Hunter-gatherers died not from chronic, degenerative disease but from the accidents and trauma of a hazardous life spent in a perilous environment.

Think about camping out for your entire life, and you can get an appreciation for how harsh and dangerous their lifestyle was. While most of us really need not worry about death until middle or old age, hunter-gatherers commonly suffered early death from causes that claim comparatively few of us. They had no modern medicine, no advanced surgical procedures, no antibiotics, and no understanding of the germs that cause infection and disease. Civil war, strife, and regional conflict were a fact of life that continually raged throughout most of their lifetimes, and infanticide (the deliberate killing of infants) was commonly practiced. Because they lived outdoors their entire lives and were constantly challenged by the elements and the physical environment, the risk of injury from accidents was quite high over the course of their lifetimes. Hunting of big game, then as now, would have been a risky business, increasing the likelihood of accident or injury. The net result of living an entire life in a perilous environment produced a high death rate from trauma and accident in these people. It is rather remarkable that 10 to 20 percent of the population lived to 60 and beyond.

However, again, the take-home message is that the living, regardless
of their age, were universally lean, fit, and free of the chronic degenerative diseases that are epidemic in our world.
Figure I.1
shows that the aerobic fitness levels of young men, age 20 to 30 years, from hunter-gatherer and non-Westernized populations are far superior to that of the average Western couch potato, while
Figure I.2
shows that their body fat levels are much lower.

It may surprise you, but despite diets rich in animal foods, these people have healthful blood cholesterol levels that leave the average Westerner in the dust (see
Table I.1
). Further, high blood pressure—the most prevalent risk factor for coronary heart disease in the United States, affecting at least 50 million Americans—is rare or not present in non-Westernized societies.

BOOK: The Paleo Diet for Athletes
5.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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