For a few years going back to my training for triathlons, I had heard via several podcasts about the Paleo diet. As I started into ultra running and listening to more podcasts http://www.imtalk.me/home/2011/5/30/imtalk-episode-264-loren-cordain-on-the-paleo-diet.html
I was struck by how many elite athletes are following a Paleo diet. After doing some research and buying some books, I dove head long into the Paleo world.
In brief, the diet name refers to the Paleolithic era and is also called the "caveman diet". The approach specified in the diet has been around for many years. However, in recent years it was the research and books by Loren Cordain, PhdD who is a professor from Colorado State University who has advanced our understanding. I read his books "Paleo Diet for Athletes" who he co-wrote with Joe Friel who also wrote "The Triathletes training bible". http://www.trainingbible.com/pdf/Paleo_for_Athletes_Cliff_Notes.pdf Their theory is that humans evolved to eat a diet that more closely resembles a hunter/gatherer lifestyle and that modern food, specially processed food has contributed to many of the illnesses that we are increasingly seeing (heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc.). As such, the diet consists of fresh fruits/vegetables, wild caught fish, free range chicken/turkey, free range beef, organic eggs with Omega 3, nuts such as walnuts but not peanuts, and coconut milk/almond milk. What is not allowed is carbohydrates from grains, no bread, no pasta, no heavy starches, no dairy products (cows were not domesticated until 10,000 years ago), no sodas, or alcohol.
My goal for following this diet was to be healthier and lose a few pounds which will help me be a better runner, specially running hills. From my reading, an additional benefit for athletes in terms of enhancing performance has to do with increasing muscle, decreasing fat stores, and improving recovery from workouts. In addition, as you have more circulating fatty acids and less carbohydrates, the muscles start to get trained to burn fat instead of sugar. Fat stores are much greater than glycogen in the liver and muscles, so endurance is improved, specially for long distance events.
So Lety and I went to our local market, Sprout, and acquired the necessary ingredients to start on the diet about 2 months ago. Surprisingly, Walmart also has free range chicken and turkey available as well. For me this meant instead of toast and orange juice, I started eating omelets with spinach and fruit for breakfast. I made smoothies with coconut milk, strawberries, papaya, kiwis, bananas, and cantaloupe. Lunch is salad with olive oil/balsamic dressing and chicken/fish and dinner is salmon with vegetables and a salad. I started drinking chocolate almond milk and lots of nuts like almonds and walnuts. I try to focus on foods with Lower glycemic index which avoid big insulin spikes which foods with high glycemic index which causes them.
So what has been the effect that I have observed? For one, I was at first very tired and sleepy (no caffeine), somewhat more irritable and when I went to run, my legs were not responding. My heart rate was super low but my legs did not want to propel me with any kind of energy. I would say that lasted for about 2 weeks but slowly I started to get back to my normal pace and have started to improve. The BIGGEST difference however, was the lack of muscle soreness in the morning. In the past, when I would wake up, my muscles were sore the day after a workout. However, on the Paleo diet you don't feel as sore and of course this is a benefit in terms of allowing consecutive days of training. I had read about this effect and it has to do with the alkaline content of the foods that are consumed with the Paleo diet. The lactic acid is more rapidly neutralized so the cause of muscle aches is diminished and speeds recovery. In contrast to a regular diet which tends to be more acidic and so the lactic acid hangs around and delays recovery. I have also lost about 8-10 pounds while eating as much as I want of the allowed foods, so I have not been hungry.
As far as during training runs, I am still eating gels (Gu) and Cliff Bars/Powerbars which the Paleo Book for athletes says are essential. Gatorade is OK as well.
If you read the books you find out cheating is OK and unavoidable, so I have gone out to eat "regular food" such as chocolate croissants and paninis for lunch on occasion. The important thing is that at least 85% of the meals in a given week follow the diet. Interestingly, I started to drink a Coke (I used to drink at least 3 a day) and could not finish it as I had lost the taste for it, never would have believed it! I guess I now longer crave that high fructose corn syrup.
Anyway, I hope this creates an interest and you can research for your selves about this diet and how it could help you. Meanwhile, I am going to get back to my usual posts about training as I prepare for Leadville 50 miler on July 15.