Paleo For Endurance Athletes- It’s A GO!!

Hi Nell,

I am a fan of your blog and find all of your posts very informative and helpful.  Interestingly, I came across an interesting article about the Paleo Diet in the recent edition of Inside Triathlon (Nov/Dec. 2010) entitled "Incinerate Body Fat" by Torbjorn Sindballe, a professional triathlete but now retired from the sport.  I was wondering if you had a chance to read it and what your thoughts are about it.  I would love to see a post about this on your website.


An excerpt from said article:


  • Nutrition – based on the results of the Paleo diet, he thought maybe modifying it would help, so he followed a normal diet schedule, then did 5-6 days of high fat, followed by a day of carbo-loading before an event; theoretically this might work, but researchers have found that this hypothesis results in a reduction in ability to perform intense workouts, which limits its usefulness to endurance athletes.
  • High-Fat Diets – diets such as Paleo – while he felt it was a healthy diet, it did not seem to be beneficial for endurance athletes, at least at the IM level; a 2006 study by Kiens and Burke concluded much the same thing"
  • Thanks for the great blog idea, Catherine!   Without knowing exactly what his diet looked like, it's hard for me to comment on why Torbjorn arrived at the conclusion he did, which was that the Paleo Diet would not support an elite endurance athlete.   While I certainly recognize that I do not compete at the level that he did, as a professional, I do fare rather well as a top age grouper, and I don't say this to boast, only to illustrate the point which is that I believe with complete conviction that the Paleo Diet CAN and does support not only Ironman training and racing, but also events longer that this.  My husband is also a Paleo Devotee and the diet has supported him for many ultra running events, including two 100 mile running races, one of which lasted 26 hours.   

    Often, when I've worked with athletes in the past who are transitioning from the mainstream diet of processed, grain based carbs, dairy-based recovery drinks and refined simple sugars up to the eyeballs, it does take a while for them to digest (pardon the pun) the idea that eating natural, whole food will prepare them adequately for training, as well as provide sufficient recovery.

    The most common issue I've seen with clients is that they simply are not eating enough.  In the past, they may've found a whole grain bagel smothered with gobs of peanut butter and jelly, followed by bars and drinks to be a quick, calorie dense means to get ready for a training session or race.   The trick is to rethink how we prepare- and it doesn't (and shouldn't) be done all in one meal.

    If you add starch (via yams!) in small portions throughout the day to your meals in order to get ready for a long workout the next day, you will more readily absorb the starch in small doses, stocking up the glycogen in your muscles and liver, versus stuffing your gullet with pasta the night before, beyond capacity.  The latter is far less efficient as you'll end up with too much to process too soon, leaving the body no choice but to convert excess calories into…. you guessed it.. fat.

    I highly encourage anyone who is considering trying The Paleo Diet to keep going and stick it out.  Know that there is an expected adjustment time; this happens to all of us as we allow our bodies to adapt from junk (and it is- anything based on grains, dairy and legumes has far more negatives than positives) to real, whole food.   However, this transition period is quite brief (usually just a week or two), and the light at the end of the tunnel is brilliant!

    Need help?

    Send me an email and I'll show you the way!