Paleo diet principles may help runners

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If you haven’t heard of the loved-by-some-hated-by-others Paleo diet, you’re probably living under a rock from the cavemen days. The premise of this diet is to go back to our caveman roots and eat as if we were still hunters and gatherers. This means nixing the added sugar, dairy, grains and legumes, and focusing on lean meat, fish, fruits and non-starchy vegetables. The Paleo diet is essentially a low carbohydrate high-fat (LCHF) diet. 

This diet has been met with mixed reviews, with opponents pointing out that some of the foods our ancestors ate aren’t even around anymore or have changed immensely. Most experts do not agree with the way Paleo cuts out entire food groups, but agrees with the promotion of lean sources of protein, fruits and vegetables. Proponents of the diet have written testimonies about how Paleo has improved their health. 

Some studies have suggested a LCHF diet may help promote weight loss and curb type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia conducted a study with prediabetic, obese mice to further investigate. When the mice reached six weeks of age, one group was fed a LCHF diet and the other group remained on the standard diet for nine weeks. 

After five weeks, the LCHF diet mice gained more weight than the standard diet mice, even though this weight gain was not associated with eating more calories. At the end of the nine-week study, the LCHF diet mice had lower levels of circulating triglycerides in their blood, which is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. However, the LCHF diet appeared to worsen insulin resistance, seen in type 2 diabetes. The researchers said their results do not support using a LCHF diet in individuals diagnosed with prediabetes. And, outside of a laboratory research setting, it is almost impossible for people to consume zero carbohydrates. 

While this study does not recommend using a LCHF diet to help with type II diabetes, there are still parts of this diet we can endorse. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean cuts of meat and fish is a staple of any healthy diet. But don’t forget about dairy and especially whole-grains - carbohydrates are the main fuel for running. 

READ: Can eating more fat make you a better runner?

Runner-friendly, Paleo-style guidelines

Load up on veg: Centre meals around the good stuff by stir-frying, roasting or tossing together a veggie-packed salad.

Go lean with protein: Reach for lean sources of protein, such as chicken breast, turkey, fish, nuts and beans. With running-approved Paleo, beans are always included, especially since beans are a great source of iron and fibre.

Eat fruit: Fruit makes a great dessert or sweet addition to salads and plain yogurt, without added sugar. 

Dairy is not off-limits: Dairy is a great source of protein and calcium. Life is not as fun without cheese.

Go whole: Eat whole-grains for a burst of energy and important nutrients, like fibre and B vitamins. As runners, our bodies rely on these complex carbohydrates for fuel during runs, especially the long ones. 

Lay off Franken-food: Cook your own meals instead of relying on packaged or canned versions. By preparing your own food, you are in charge of how much fat, salt and sugar goes into your body. 

READ: Q&A: Tim Noakes

- Additional reporting by Debbie Fetter