Friday, March 25, 2011

A diet made for the caveman, or cavewoman, in you

Santa Cruzans have been early and enthusiastic adopters of the push for good, clean local produce. The popularity of farmers markets and a resistance to fast food chains are testament to the community’s appreciation of real food.

So how has the movement influenced endurance athletes who are consistently at the mercy of energy bars, drinks and protein shakes?

Flickr.com - Lollyknit
The Paleo Diet - a diet based simply on what your ancestors, Paleolithic man, had available to eat - is gaining popularity. No dairy, processed foods or grains, but lots of vegetables, fruit and lean animal protein. The diet, with some adaptions, was popularized among endurance athletes through the book “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” authored by Loren Courdain and Joel Friel. For the long-distance athlete, the book espouses benefits of the diet, such as reduced gastric discomfort and teaching the body to burn fats preferentially, which increases endurance.

While I am not brave, or organized, enough to put the diet to the test myself, I did track down some locals who started it for the New Year.

Training for an Ironman triathlon in Arizona this November, Heather Rozario was initially interested in the diet as a way of cutting down her sugar intake after the festive season. After following the diet strictly for 30 days she added a few non-Paleo foods back in her diet but says she eats more vegetables than before and no processed foods.

The first two weeks were hard while her body adjusted but she noticed her skin cleared up and she had as much energy during her workouts as before. She even made her own energy bars made of dates, unsweetened coconut and honey to take on long rides.

Jessica Delgado, a Team Mermaid triathlete, started the diet to address nutritional deficiencies that turned up in her blood work. She noticed immediate benefits like better sleep, cleaner skin and more energy. She did however have trouble incorporating her training with the diet, feeling like she needed more carbohydrate to fuel her workouts, so she eventually returned to gluten and dairy products.

She did quit coffee in the process and says she will never eat non-organic meat again, now she’s tasted organic grass-fed beef, it’s hard to go back.”

While the impact on endurance performance is hard to assess, the diet seems to have had some lasting improvements on the nutritional habits of the athletes I talked to, including a renewed appreciation for unprocessed foods.

So if your hunting and gathering has been lacklustre lately, perhaps the Paleo Diet is worth a try.

Spierings, M. (2011 March 24). In the Long Run: A diet made for the caveman, or cavewoman, in you. Santa Cruz Sentinel.
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