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Paleo Diet & Running

By Christine Binnendyk ; Updated July 18, 2017

Based on the eating choices of our Paleolithic ancestors, the Paleo diet focuses on foods that you can catch or pick -- grass-fed meat, seafood, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. If you follow this diet, you can expect to avoid all processed foods, including dairy products, soda, sugar, grains, and legumes, as well as all foods with added chemicals or preservatives, according to Loren Cordain, author of “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.” If you are a runner, you may need more carbohydrates than non-endurance athletes need, but you can still thrive on a Paleo diet, says Sarah Fragoso, co-author of “Everyday Paleo.”


The Paleo lifestyle leans heavily on omega-3 fat intake for energy. In the absence of quick-digesting carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, your body burns fat, then protein. This is important during a run, since you want to know that you have the energy to move at your desired pace and for your intended distance. Healthy fats, like avocado and coconut oil, are excellent sources of energy for runners, advises Fragoso.


Some sports nutritionists advise loading up on quick digesting carbs, like pasta or bread, before a big event, but runners can better serve themselves by loading up on nutrient-rich complex carbs such as yams and winter squash, notes Fragoso. These Paleo food choices contain more micronutrients -- vitamins, minerals and antioxidants -- plus fiber, which slows down the flow of sugar into your bloodstream, keeping your blood insulin levels even throughout your run.


Calorie for calorie, protein and carbohydrates are the same: 4 calories per gram of food. The protein foods encouraged on the Paleo diet -- seafood, non-vegetarian eggs and grass-fed meat -- contain nutrients that bread and pasta do not. Animal protein contains essential amino acids, the building blocks for muscle repair and growth. By choosing grass-fed meats, you can also ensure that the fat provided by your meat will be omega-3 fat, which is used in cell repair. Corn-fed animals produce meat that is higher in omega-6 fat, which is more difficult for humans to digest and assimilate, leading to fatter people, notes Cordain.


Running, like all athletic endeavors, inherently causes inflammation. This is a normal process caused by stress on muscles during activity. You can manage this process through nutrition, sleep and smart training to enhance your athletic performance, according to Robb Wolf, co-author of “Everyday Paleo.” A Paleo diet that avoids starches and grains, and focuses on leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and quality protein lessens overall inflammation in your body while providing the building blocks for muscle repair and cell growth.

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