How to Run on a Paleo Diet


Oh God! Not another diet!

I have done it.

It can be done.

And with the right guidance and strategies, you’ll be able to do it too—whether you choose to become a full paleo convert, or just to try it for science and fun.

I know, it sounds like the type of diet trends/marketing nonsense you see on late night commercials; nonetheless, Paleo is actually the real thing.

The main reason for writing this blog post is to show you, my dear runners, that it’s actually quite possible to run and eat paleo.

Inside of this post, I’m going to share with you my insights on the Paleo diet and how it can help you as a runner. I will also be sharing with you some practical tips to help you experiment with this amazing nutrition regiment.

Me and Paleo

As a runner, first time I heard about the Paleo diet about two to three years ago, I was quite skeptical. Like any other strict nutrition program that eliminates an entire food group, I was very cynical about the whole primal eating lifestyle.


I was concerned, since Paleo eating seemed to me too strict, and may be lacking proper carbohydrates needed for running and recovery.

But the Paleo diet was gathering steam like no other nutrition plan, and scores of athletes—especially CrossFitters—were swearing their lives on the effectiveness of eating like our ancestors.

They can’t be all WRONG.

And I always regarded myself as an open-minded kinda of a guy/runner.

So instead of listening to my inner skeptic runner shouting at me at every corner to not try the paleo craze, I decided to carry out an experiment. Be my own case study sort of speak.

On March the first 2014, I decided to go full Paleo for one whole month, then see if it’s something worth the trouble.

I Googled a bunch of meal recipes and plans and got my hands on a couple of Paleo books. Then, I kept a moderate mileage and sought to determine the compatibility of Paleo diet for me.

Over that month, I followed the paleo eating principles (some of them I’m sharing with you in this post), while also keeping track of my energy levels, training performance, GI happiness, weight, and overall health and well-being level.

It was really hard during the first week, and it wasn’t the smoothest transition.

But I was determined to go with it since I have learned from my research that it can take up to one to two weeks for the body to readjust and adapt to the new eating regime.

By the end of the 30-day challenge, I was hooked.

I lost at least 8 pounds (of pure fat).

My energy levels were through the roof.

And the best thing: I was eating way healthier. I eliminated all sorts of processed foods and sugars from my diet—something I struggled with for so many years.

Here is the truth folks: Paleo does work, whether you are a CrossFitter, a runner, or just someone looking to get in shape and lose some weight. All you need to have is a bit of understanding of the Paleo eating lifestyle, then and only then, give a try and see for yourself. That’s it.

Paleo diet word cloud

The Classic Mistake

In my personal experience, most runners shy away from Paleo diet because they:

(1) Do not actually get what it’s all about, or

(2) They are not planning the ins and outs of the diet properly, or

(3) They don’t listen to their bodies properly.

As a runner, here is what you need to understand about Paleo eating: This primal eating lifestyle is not a low-carb, or calorie-restrictive diet.

Au contraire my friend, it’s something entirely different.

But before we look at the ins and outs of the diet, let’s discuss briefly what the Paleo diet is all about.

What is Paleo

Homo sapiens, the fancy term scientists use to refer to “modern humans,” have been around this planet for around 100,000 to 200,000 years. Throughout this relatively long period of time, our ancestors thrived and succeeded (you want proof? Here you are alive and kicking) as hunters and gatherers.

According to current scientific understanding, modern humans evolved probably between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago in Africa. And like other ancient humans that were living in that period, they gathered and hunted for food, and evolved behaviors that helped them to cope with the challenges of survival in hazardous environments.

Homo Sapiens: Then & Now

The average Homo sapiens spent a great deal of his day hunting, scavenging animals or gathering plants. They typically lived in small nomadic groups known as band societies.

Our ancestors, well as far as we are aware, were powerful humans. The typical Homo sapiens has been described as muscular, tall, athletic and suffered relatively from less stress.

However, today’s average homo Sapien is nothing like its ancestors. The common human today is (mostly in the developed world anyway) overweight, stressed out, unhappy, and suffers from a plethora of preventative diseases.

So something happened, and it really tipped the balance.

So take a wild guess?

It’s not religion.

It’s not politics.

What happened, according to scientists, is that human dietary habits have changed drastically with the discovery of agriculture.

The Rise of Agriculture

About 10,000 years ago humans discovered farming, then the agricultural revolution gathered immense steam and swept through almost every region of the habitable world, forcing our ancestors to leave the hunter-gatherer lifestyle behind.

The discovery of agriculture and farming prompted the Neolithic Revolution, which led to a food surplus production, the domestication of certain animals, the formation of permanent communities, and the typical Homo Sapien eventually evolved into what we are today.

The Price of Agriculture

From the looks of it, the agricultural revolution was a blessing. It was, maybe, solely responsible for the evolutionary jump that allowed us to shift from living as hunter-gatherers, to the sophisticated, urbane, and “logical” humans we are today. Agriculture promoted trade and cooperation and was the backbone of the formation of complex societies.

But this evolution came at a price. With the discovery of agriculture, grains came to the scene. We humans first started cultivating grains around 10,000 years ago, which is too short for our digestive systems to re-adjust

In other words, our genes have not adapted to consuming all the grains that we are now farming since our bodies are still running on the old script.

So what’s the solution here?

Well, some crazy people, including me, are pushing for an eating lifestyle that mimics that’s of our ancestors.

This brings me back to why I’m writing this…

Paleo Eating Lifestyle

Also known as the Paleolithic diet, or stone-age diet, the paleo diet is an eating plan that’s mainly based on foods assumed to be widely accessible for Paleolithic humans, with the underlying presumption that this how humans were designed, by thousands of years of evolution and adaptation, to eat.

In other words, it’s a throwback to the cavemen days when vegetables, lean proteins, fresh fruits, and healthy fats were the bread and butter of the eating menu.

Natural Vs. Processed

Paleo pundits recommend going back to how we originally ate in ancient times, eating mostly foods in a natural, unprocessed state, such as fish, grass-fed meats, vegetables, nuts, eggs, seeds, healthy oils, and berries.

Foods like beans, legume, cereal grains, processed foods, vegetable oils, potatoes, dairy and foods with lots of refined sugars are off-limits when eating Paleo-style.

In fact, when you are on Paleo, you are forbidden to eating anything that comes out of a box, and no vegetable oils.

If you are still confused here then here is a simple rule: If a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can you. Sorry.

The Benefits of Paleo for Runners

According to my research and experience, here are a few perks of the paleo diet lifestyle:

More nutrients. You will have more vitamins and antioxidants to keep a strong immune system, increased fat oxidation—which is key for endurance running, and a faster muscle recovery rate since Paleo diet is high in micronutrient content (in contrast to the classical high sugar and starch diet) and branched-chain amino acids—vital for muscle repair.

Lose Weight. This diet can also help you shed the pounds, improve GI function, increase insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, dodge the common colds and flu, reduce allergies, and increase your overall energy and health level.

Paleo dieting means no pasta, no bread, no grains, no rice, no potatoes, and no processed carbs, which is a hard thing since carbs are the preferred source of energy for many runners.

However, this didn’t stop a growing number of runners, including me, from going full Paleo. And the Paleo diet has been gathering steam in the general fitness community like no other diet for one obvious reason: it delivers.

For more Paleo benefits, check out this link.

Paleo Don’t Mean Low Carb

Paleo preaches the elimination of all kinds of processed carbs from your diet, but that don’t mean that Paleo is a low-carb diet. Au contraire my friend, you can still get plenty of carbs, then some more, from sweet potatoes, yams, fruits, and vegetables.

How to Run On a Paleo Diet

As a Paleo dieter, you will be eating lots of meats—mainly organic, grass fed—eggs, fish (not farmed), berries, nuts and non-starchy vegetables. All kinds of grains, legumes, dairy, refined and processed carbs are off limits.

In other words, if you can’t kill (the hunting side) it, or pick (the gathering side) it, don’t eat it. That’s the basic rule of Paleo eating.

However, as a runner, there some trade-offs that you need to be willing to do if you want to opt for a Paleo lifestyle while running.

To make Paleo work for you as a runner, you will need to make some changes.

Special Changes for Runners

We runners tend to require relatively high amounts of carbohydrates.

Therefore, the question is how can we keep our energy stores going strong without cheating on Paleo?

Well, in my experience, it’s really quite simple. For me, it’s all about timing the meals right.

And here is how:

First of all, make sure to divide your nutrition plan into stages. Abide by the Paleo principles for most of your meals, but also make the necessary adjustments before, during and immediately after your runs.

Secondly, aim to increase your carb intake around hard training sessions and races, then go back to full Paleo on the rest of the time.

If you are serious about going full Paleo—and there is no harm in being Paleo 80 or 90 percent of the time by the way—then you will need to include good sources of carbohydrates before, during and after long duration runs.

But for the rest of the time, make sure to eat Paleo predominantly.

Paleo Diet for Long Distance Runners

If you do any sorts of long distance/endurance running, then cheating on paleo the right way won’t do much harm.

And here is how:

During longer runs, aim to increase your carb intake by consuming “non-paleo” foods that are glucose-rich, such as sports drinks, gels, bagels, pasta, bread and rice, but steer clear of these foods at other times.

Of course, you don’t have to make this trade-off if going full paleo has been a complete success for you.

You can also boost up your carb intake eating plenty of sweet potatoes, squash, yams, bananas, and parsnips.

Plus, you can also cut back on foods scoring high on protein and fat, like meat, eggs, and fish, leaving you space to consume more carbs.

Go Easy on the Meat

As a side note, I would encourage runners—and anyone interested in Paleo dieting—to not eat high amounts of meat—and if you did, try to only eat grass fed meats, and steer clear of the processed kind.

Also, be sure to try other sources of lean proteins, such as poultry and fish.

According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, high meat consumption was linked a higher mortality rate, so be careful here.

Paleo for Weight Loss

The best part about paleo dieting is that you can eat as much as you like and still won’t get fat.

Why is that?

Well, most of the food is consumed  in its natural, unprocessed, state And eating like this is so nutritious and filling.

I lost roughly eight pounds of pure fat during my first month of Paleo eating (and I wasn’t that overweight to start with), and you should expect to shed the pounds like crazy.

However, if you are looking to lose weight with Paleo, then you may need to limit fruit intake since they have quite a bit of sugar in them.

Nuts are full-choke with calories so keep their consumption under control. Honey is off limit too.

Going cold-turkey often helps; at least until you reach your goal weight, then start gradually re-introducing these foods into your diet.

Plus, make sure to load up on vegetable and include plenty of healthy protein—especially eggs.

On the training side, do plenty of interval style runs, such as intervals, Fartleks, and hill reps—this form of training is way more efficient when it comes to burning fat than the usual long steady state runs.

Listen to Your Body

In the end, it’s your call.

There is no such thing as the perfect diet. It really depends on you and how your body is responding, for better or worse.

Therefore, test out Paleo on your own terms.

Don’t listen to me.

Don’t follow the popular Paleo lifestyle preachers blindly.

Do your bedding first. Start experimenting with the diet on a low scale before you take it to the next level.

Most of what I shared with you in this blog post are my own opinions. And they are not written in stone. Who knows, maybe in one or two years, something else will come, and it will work better.

However, you can never know for sure until you try.

So take 30 days and give Paleo a shot.

You have nothing to lose here (except for some extra pounds!).

See for yourself if paleo is the diet for you.

Eliminate the grains, dairy, liquid calories and processed foods and sugar, and start eating more lean protein, vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and see how you feel after the 30-days period is up.

If you haven’t noticed any significant improvements after 30 days, then go back to your former ways.

Just keep in mind that you need to give your body at least two to three weeks before passing judgment because it has to adjust and get used to the new nutrition change.

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I have no doubt that paleo diet is the best diet for your health as a runner and human being.

I could have made this post 10 times longer if I wanted to, but that would have defeated my purpose here. I just wanted to give you a simple understanding of the Paleo eating lifestyle, and hopefully, I have succeeded.

So before I call it a day here is the basic tenet of Paleo: Eat lots of vegetables, meats, eggs, fish, nuts and fruits scoring low on fructose, and do your best to avoid grains, processed foods, and dairy. That’s it.

Please leave your comments and questions below

Thank you for reading my post


David D.

Featured Image Credit – Run On Beat Through Flickr

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