Paleo Diet for Athletes: Pros and Cons

November 18, 2022

The Paleolithic diet or simply Paleo diet takes as a reference the diet carried out by our ancestors of the Stone Age, based on the foods that were within their reach from hunting and gathering: terrestrial game and fish, fruits, vegetables, and tubers.


Like any approach or theory, some arguments and opinions are in favor of the Paleo Diet, others question it, and others consider it appropriate in some situations and not in others. Today we look at the benefits and disadvantages of the Paleo Diet, so let's see it in detail:


Benefits of the Paleo Diet


  • No food weighing and no calorie counting.


  • It helps to stay healthy, slim, strong, and full of vitality.


  • Athletes who defend this type of diet claim that it is very rich in branched-chain amino acids, known as BCAAs, very important for muscle recovery after training.


  • This diet helps prevent and improve diseases caused by our current diet, full of sugars, refined foods, and trans fats that cause chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and pathologies that generate autoimmune diseases, depression, infertility, digestive and intestinal disorders, inflammation, allergies, intolerances.


  • It is gluten-free, so it is suitable for people with gluten-related problems.


  • All processed foods and beverages are considered poison. By not consuming all these foods, all the disorders they cause are avoided. This concept is widely supported by the scientific community.


  • A maximum of 3 meals a day allow the digestive and immune systems to rest. Because Paleolithic man did not have a constant supply of food, the species adapted to store fat as an energy reserve for times of scarcity. Today, we use excessive amounts of carbohydrates, which are stored without being able to be used up.


  • The necessary vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates are obtained from fruits and vegetables.


  • It contributes to reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides in the blood and increases good cholesterol (HDL).


  • Prevents constipation and other digestive problems.


  • Increases metabolic efficiency without starvation.


Disadvantages of the Paleo Diet 


There are different arguments against the Paleo diet. One of them is that they qualify it as a high-protein diet because of the high protein intake. This is not exactly so, since this nutritional plan includes many vegetables and fruits.


An excess of proteins can induce "rabbit starvation" or protein intoxication, a type of acute malnutrition due to the excessive consumption of lean meat added to the lack of other sources of nutrients such as fats and carbs. 


Symptoms may include diarrhea, headache, fatigue, low blood pressure, and malaise, which can only be compensated for by ingesting fats and carbohydrates.


Studies show that the human liver can correctly metabolize up to 35% of calories in the form of protein per day, and depending on muscle mass, the kidneys' removal of urea from the bloodstream (generated in the body as a waste substance by the metabolism of proteins) is depleting and limited.


Eating this way can be more expensive. It depends on your spending profile and the importance you place on your health. Some people spend much more on eating and drinking out. Even so, many foods present in our daily shopping basket are included in this nutritional plan.


Opponents of the diet claim that Paleolithic men did not develop diseases because they did not exceed 20 or 30 years of age. Most deaths occurred from infections or trauma from hunting accidents and hostile environmental conditions, something we do not suffer from in the modern world. Contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes have an average life expectancy of 65 years (without disease and access to drugs).


Paleo Diet for Athletes  


By following a Paleolithic diet, many athletes feel more energetic in the initial phase; this is mainly due to the reduction of sugars and saturated fats and the increase of vegetables and simple preparations and meals. 


Therefore, in general, athletes' previous nutritional habits are improved, while enjoying greater digestive comfort. On the other hand, paleo advises doing sports on an empty stomach, which, according to specialists, is only of interest in very low-intensity activities that seek to optimize fat metabolism.


According to nutritionists, in the case of high-intensity training, performance will depend on the energy reserves available in the liver and muscle, which will lead to claudication when these are depleted. 


The main consequence of moderate and high-intensity activities is the decrease of carbohydrates, the main energy source, which will lead to performance worsening and muscle mass loss (protein catabolism.)


Therefore, it is advisable to adjust the caloric ratio to the needs of each individual and to maintain a varied and balanced intake of all food groups, following the daily recommendations taking into account the characteristics of training and body composition, as well as taking special care with hydration. 


Conclusions


It has been demonstrated that many modern, refined, and manipulated foods are not in harmony with our genetic constitution and that the evolution of our species does not correspond to the evolution that food has undergone. 


In just a few years, new foods and substances have appeared to which our genetic code has not yet had time to adapt. This is studied by the science called nutritional genomics, which constitutes nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics.


The Paleo diet, taken strictly, can be insufficient to cover all the requirements of athletes, especially endurance athletes. This is why there is a variant of the Paleo diet adapted with the introduction of other non-Paleolithic foods rich in carbohydrates (such as cereals, legumes, and fermented dairy products.)


Eating before, during, and after exercise is crucial to optimize performance. Therefore, it is essential to take carb-rich foods before and after exercise, and also proteins for muscle recovery. The type of food, quantity, and schedules will depend on the type of sport and the approach of the nutrition specialist.


In the adapted Paleo diet, non-Paleolithic foods are preferably taken during competitions and training sessions, and foods from the Paleolithic diet are the rest of the time.


Numerous studies show that it is appropriate to reduce the amount of animal protein and its derivatives to moderate limits and increase the consumption of fresh vegetables.


Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize.

The healthiest thing to do in terms of nutrition and any other aspect of life is to avoid extremism and fads and to embark on experimenting for oneself. 

 

The most accurate point of the Paleolithic approach is to eliminate artificial foods, which do not come from nature, because they are, to all intents and purposes, harmful to health. 


Excluding grains and legumes from the diet seems to be a closed point of view. There are indeed people who do not tolerate them, as can happen with any other food group; however, the way they are cooked and combined is crucial in this aspect. 


What is suitable for one person is not the best for another; each person has individual and genetic particularities. The best recipe is to use common sense and be open to modifying ideas. Giving your health the importance it deserves and good nutritional advice can help you on your way, as long as you are willing to step out of your comfort zone.