If you are like me, you probably don’t really know much about Paleolithic Nutrition. Up until a few months ago, I thought those on the Paleo Diet only ate nuts and seeds. Nonetheless, I was curious.
Around the time of my New Year’s Resolution, one of my work friends started bringing muffins and cake and cookies and all sorts of treats to work and calling them “Paleo.” Knowing the basics ingredients of baking, I was intrigued: how does one make cookies with only nuts and seeds? Could it be that my perception of Paleo Nutrition was wrong?
I decided to start investigating the Paleo “diet.” Just as the name would imply a Paleo chooses to eat at like a hunter-gatherer with the rationale that this is how humans were designed to eat. As with any food philosophy that eliminates entire food groups, I approached the Paleo diet from a nutritional perspective. Is there enough variety and are the limitations loose enough to meet nutritional needs in terms of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals? Here are the basics along with my review (+ or -) for each nutrient:
1. Protein: Caveman hunted for meat and fished for seafood. They also gathered eggs. They did not, however, have preservatives or curing methods to create bacon or ham. (+)
2. Carbohydrates: Starches, grains, legumes, and sugar are all on the “Avoid” list. Uh-oh… What about the 3-4:1 carb:protein ratio for recovery? I also don’t fully understand the rationale for this since rice and wheat and corn and potatoes are all plants that could be gathered. So if you have more info, please share it. (-)
3. Fats: A variety of oils are included along with nuts, so healthy fat-requirements are a non-issue. (+)
4. Vitamins and Minerals: Vegetables and fruits are included without restrictions in the Paelo diet. And as a general rule, a colorful plate is a vitamin/mineral rich plate. Dairy is excluded along with grains which have potential implications for calcium, vitamin D and B-vitamins. There is no mention of vitamin supplements, but I can only assume that since they weren’t available 2.5 million years ago, they probably are a no-go. I’m giving this category a (0) since I am undecided.
So with the above in consideration, my primary concerns with the Paleo diet as a runner are adequate carbohydrates (to support endurance exercise and recovery) and adequate vitamins and minerals (due to elimination of food groups as mentioned above). A quick Google search revealed that Paleo eating is promoted by bodybuilders and personal trainers for weight loss. Not by populations interested in, say, sustained activity over the course of 3+ hours. As a result there isn’t a whole lot of info about getting enough carbohydrates under the Paleo regime. Oh dear…
Since the Internet and a few books were limited help I decided to reflect on personal experiences. At the conclusion of my New Year’s Resolution food intolerance experiment, I determined that I have the most energy and the my GI system functions best when I avoid dairy and limit gluten, old-fashioned oats, and high-fructose fruits like apples, pears, grapes, and even honey. Yet over the past few months, I’ve allowed more and more gluten and processed foods to creep in. Is it a coincidence that I’ve had trouble waking up despite getting 8-10 hours of sleep? I’d like to get back to that energetic feeling.
So I’ve decided to experiment on myself. A case study, if you will, to determine the compatibility of Paleo nutrition for a runner of moderate/average mileage. Over the next 14 days, I’m going to attempt to follow the Paleo principles (simplified here) and continue to run 50 miles a week. I’ll keep track of my sleep, energy and GI happiness throughout the two weeks and at the end, have a bit of an understanding of the Paleo craze and it’s “goodness of fit” among runners. And I’ll post a few recipes along the way.
What do you know about Paleo nutrition? Do you have any good recipes or suggestions for making it work? Are you interested in outcomes other than sleep, energy and GI happiness?