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Paleo for Althletes

In General

When it comes to immediately before, during, and after workouts we need to bend the rules of the Paleo Diet a bit since we’re placing demands on the body that were not normal for our ancestors. Quick recovery is one of those demands. This requires some latitude to use non-traditional foods. I’ve talked about this with Dr. Cordain and he agrees.


In brief, I recommend that athletes eat low to moderate glycemic index carbohydrates about two hours prior to a hard or long workout or race. There may also be some fat and protein in this meal. All foods should be low in fiber. There is a list of foods by glycemic index in my books.


During these workouts/races you will need to take in high glycemic index carbohydrates mostly in the form of fluids. Sports drinks are fine for this. Find one that you like the taste of and will drink willingly. Realize that events lasting less than about an hour (including warm-up) don’t require any carbohydrate. Water will do quite nicely for these. Fruit juices aren’t as quickly available to the muscle as sports drinks.  Other products that may be desirable especially as the races get longer, although not necessary until the duration approaches 12 hours, are gels and sports bars.

 A starting point for deciding how much to take in is based on 400 calories per hour. Large and small athletes may vary this considerably to as little as 200 calories or as much as 600. How your gut handles food during exercise will also determine your unique intake needs. Also, the more anaerobic efforts your race demands, the fewer calories you will probably want to take in. It appears that the digestive processes slow down or stop altogether during anaerobic effort. This may cause a feeling of bloating or nausea if you are taking in greater amounts of food.


In the first 30 minutes post-workout (long and/or fast) and race use a recovery drink that contains both carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 ratio. You can buy a commercial product such as Endurox R4 for this. Or you can make your own by blending 16 ounces of fruit juice with a banana and 3 tablespoons of protein powder, especially from egg or whey sources. I believe this 30-minute period is critical. For the next several minutes, or as long as the preceding workout was, continue to focus your diet on carbohydrates, especially moderate to high glycemic index carbohydrates along with protein at a 4:1 ratio. After this longer recovery window return to eating a diet as described in Dr. Cordain’s book.