The Runner’s Guide To The Paleo Diet

paleo diet
Couple running in Brooklyin. Urban runners on the move in New york

If you’re thinking about giving the Paleo diet a try, then you’ve come to the right place.

In today’s post, I’m going to break down this diet and give you the guidelines you need to a guide guide to the paleo diet for runners.

By the end, you’ll learn more about:

  • What is the paleo diet
  • The origins of the paleo diet
  • The theory behind the primal eating lifestyle
  • The pros and cons of the paleo diet
  • How to run on the paleo diet
  • How to increase your carb intake without cheating on the paleo diet
  • And the essentials you need before your final decision.

Let’s get started.

My Story With The Paleo Diet

The first time I heard of the paleo diet ten years ago, I was quite skeptical.

I’d distrust any nutrition program that eliminates entire foods groups.

Back then, I was under the impression that the paleo diet was too strict, lacking sufficient carbs for running and recovery.

Why we have to go back to the ancient human lifestyle when we can afford almost everything now.

Shouldn’t we be moving forward, not backward?

I was also annoyed by the whole primal eating lifestyle.

Everyone was talking about it.

I kept seeing articles about how awesome the Paleo diet is everywhere.

Even some of my friends were starting to embrace it (and talk about it the whole time).

Annoying right?

Sure, I knew that going paleo means eating lots of lean sources of protein, vegetables, and fruits, but I still had my doubts.

That said, I kept reading stories of people sharing testimonials about how the paleo diet improved their health.

I’ve heard it so much to the point that I decided to give it a try and see for myself.

In March 2013, I decided to be a caveman. I went full Paleo for one whole month.

I Googled a bunch of meal plans and got my hands on a couple of Paleo books.

I was also monitoring my energy levels, training performance, GI happiness, weight, and overall health and well-being level.

I want to really experience the whole benefit of the caveman diet.

I dare to set my commitment for 30 days.

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.

That’s not even the best part.

I was also eating way healthier.

In the end, processed foods and snacks weren’t on my list.

At all.

As proven by my personal experience, it works.

This is true whether you’re a CrossFitter, a runner, or just someone looking to get in shape and lose some weight.

You just need the right paleo eating plan for runners to make this work.

That’s where today’s post comes in handy.

Keep on reading if you want to learn how to make the paleo diet work for you.

But, first things first, let’s dive into what the primal eating lifestyle is about.

What is Paleo

The principle idea behind the primal eating lifestyle is that technology, mainly the advent of agriculture, developed at a too quick of a pace for the human body catch up and naturally adapt.

Let me break this down.

Paleo pundits believe that humans are genetically designed to eat a certain way—a way that’s similar to how early humans ate.

The paleo diet is inspired by the Paleolithic era that spanned between 2.5 million to roughly 10.000 years ago—preceding the arrival of farming and animal domestication.

Also known as the Paleolithic diet, caveman diet, or stone-age diet is a nutrition plan that revolves around consuming the foods that would have been available during this period.

Their food was mainly obtained either by gathering or hunting, which include, but aren’t limited to: vegetables, fruits, seeds, and lean meats.

Before the advent of agriculture, our ancestors subsisted on vegetables, nuts, fruits, roots, and plenty of lean proteins, such as venison, fish, and poultry.

Millions of years of evolution have shaped the human body to eat certain foods-and by only eating those foods that humans can perform at prime.

They typically lived in small nomadic groups known as band societies.

That’s not the whole story.

Evidence also shows that our ancestors were powerful humans.

The typical Homo sapiens have been described as muscular, tall, athletic, and suffered relatively from less stress.

So different from typical human today, right?

Thanks to Western diet and high sodium intake.

Wonder why the change?

The theory blames our DNA.

The theory is, our DNA has virtually remained unaltered over the last 2.5 million years, which indicates that we’re still genetically adapted to the primal eating lifestyle.

In other words, we’re still running on the old script.

That’s why most Paleo pundits preach the diet as what’s the human body is designed to eat.

But here’s the thing.

The modern diet in most regions of the world has drastically changed beyond recognition.

The change has been correlated with drastic increases in lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions.

For example, research also reports that introducing the typical Western diet to an indigenous population virtually always leads to increases in morbidity and mortality rates.

Objectively speaking, this change may not prove a genetic inability to deal with the increases in consumption of grain and legume foods or simply overeating, but there’s a strong correlation.

paleo eating for runners

The Counter-Evidence

While the paleo diet may make sense in theory, the primal eating lifestyle is still a hotly debated topic.

In fact, a lot of scientists have problems with it.

For starters, our paleolithic ancestors were not trendsetters.

No theory, no guideline, they just ate for the sake of survival.

What’s more?

Some scientists also point to the fact that ancient humans were located all around the planet during this ear and didn’t all consume the same foods.

Homo sapiens who dwelt in high altitude regions ate mostly animal foods and very little plant food.

There were also hunters and gathers that consumed a lot of plant-based foods and only little lean sources of protein.

Do you know what’s also interesting?

The record shows no believable evidence that there were any vegan hunters-gatherers.

Paleo Eating Explained

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 it, or pick it, don’t eat it.

The Benefits of The Paleo Diet

Here are a few perks of the paleo diet lifestyle:

  • Lose weight (the reason I had to give it a try)
  • Improve GI function,
  • Increase insulin sensitivity,
  • Reduce inflammation,
  • Dodge the common colds and flu,
  • Reduce allergies, and
  • Increase your overall energy and health level.

What’s not to like right?

The Downsides

Just like any drastic dietary change, the downsides that come from the paleo diet are the risk of an imbalanced diet.

For example, paleo eating encourages consuming substantial amounts of meat.

This can result in excess intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Not good for you.

What’s more?

Paleo eaters could also be lacking out on fiber, some vitamins, and minerals that come from a nutrition plan that’s rich in healthy grains and dairy products.

Can You Run on The Paleo Diet?

In the context of the most “paleo” exercise, running would undoubtedly take the gold.

Running has been around since the dawn of humans and it’s been recorded as an essential human activity for a long as we’ve written records.

But can you really run on the paleo diet?

The answer is an astounding YES

Why Runners Fail on The Paleo Diet

In my personal experience, most runners can’t make it on the paleo diet because they:

(1) Have no idea what the Paleo diet is really about, or

(2) Not planning the ins and outs of the diet properly, or

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

Paleo Don’t Mean Low Carb

Get this – Paleo eating is not a low-carb, or calorie-restrictive diet.

When you abide by paleo eating rules, you essentially eliminate all sorts of processed foods (usually high-carb items) from your diet, but that doesn’t turn the paleo diet into a low-carb diet.

The Carbs

The most common excuse most runners use to avoid the paleo diet is its lack of complex carbs (i.e., bread, pasta, rice, etc.).

So how do you get enough carbs on the paleo diet?

Simple.

Eat more carb-rich paleo-friendly foods.

Here’s a lit of paleo-friendly carbohydrates sources that will fuel any runner.

  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Plantains
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Onion
  • Pumpkin
  • Butternut squash
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Beets
  • Parsnips

Sure, this is not the full list.

Depending on where you live (as well as your budget and taste), there are plenty of high carb and paleo-friendly items you can add to your menu.

Remember that veggies have carbs too.

To leave more space for carbs, consider eating less protein and fat, such as meat, fish, and eggs.

What’s more?

Unless you’re doing some serious endurance training every day, you might not even need a lot of carbs per day.

Eating paleo can provide your body with enough supply of carbs to keep up with all the running and jumping around.

Your carb intake depends, of course, on your weekly training volume and goals.

Just pay attention to your body and re-adjust accordingly.

Time Your Meals Right

Once you have an awesome paleo foods list, the next thing to do is to time your intake so you can keep your energy stores going strong without cheating on paleo (nor upsetting your stomach).

Here’s how to time your paleo diet running:

  • Divide your diet plan into stages. Eat paleo most of the time, but break the rules before, during, and right after your runs.
  • Increase your carb intake on hard training days, then go back to full Paleo.

Eating For Endurance Training

During longer runs, eat more “non-paleo” foods that are glucose-rich, such as sports drinks, gels, pasta, bread bagels, and rice, but avoid these the rest of the week.

Keep in mind that you can always boost up your carb intake, eating plenty of squash, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, and parsnips (check the previous list). Keep it as simple as possible.

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.

There are many reasons why the Paleo diet works very well for losing weight while running.

The paleo diet works very well for weight loss because it forces you to eat mostly foods within the low to the medium glycemic index.

Going paleo may also improve your insulin sensitivity, which is good news for pre- and diabetics.

What’s more?

Since you’ll be eating foods in its natural, unprocessed state, you’ll consume fewer calories and feel sated faster and for a longer time.

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 lose a lot of weight.

Just one little caveat.

If you’re looking to lose weight on the Paleo diet, limit your fruit intake as they have quite a bit of sugar in them.

Nuts are full-choke with calories. 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.

What’s more?

Remember to load up on vegetables and include plenty of healthy protein—especially eggs.

Worry not if you’re allergic to eggs, tempeh and soy can be good alternatives.

Your training plan also matters for weight loss.

Perform plenty of interval training workouts, such as intervals, fartlek, and hill reps.

Research shows that HIIT is more efficient for burning fat than steady-state cardio workouts.

Listen to Your Body

There is no such thing as the perfect diet.

It really depends on you.

Don’t follow any guidelines blindly.

Test The Paleo Diet for 30 Days.

You got nothing to lose (bar for some extra pounds!).

Why it has to be 30 days? Well, let’s play safe.

Noticed zero improvements after 30 days? Then maybe the paleo diet isn’t for you.

Just remember that it’s going to take a few weeks for your body to completely get used to paleo eating.

So don’t be in a hurry to pass judgment.

Give it time.

Conclusion:

To conclude—the tenets of paleo eating are simple:

  • Eat lots of vegetables, meats, eggs, fish, nuts, and fruits,
  • and steer clear of grains, processed foods, and dairy.

The rest is just details.

Please leave your comments and questions below

Thank you for reading my post

Cheers

David D.