Although training for endurance sports typically keeps athletes lean, there are a few who seem to have a hard time establishing and maintaining low body fat. They may gain a few pounds over the holidays or during times of reduced training and then find it difficult to get the excess pounds off. My experience with several such athletes leads me to believe that if they ate a diet based on the principles in Dr. Loren Cordain's and my book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, they would stabilize around their ideal weights.
We propose two principles in the Paleo (PAY-lee-o) diet book that allow the athlete to take in adequate carbohydrate to meet their training demands while helping to ensure that they don't take in excessive amounts of high glycemic carbohydrates which are quickly converted to fat. These principles are based on five stages of recovery throughout the day.
The first principle is that the athlete should only eat high glycemic foods (mostly starches and simple sugars) during exercise (stage 2), in the first 30 minutes post-exercise (stage 3), and for a period of time afterwards that lasts as long as the workout lasted (stage 4). During stage 1 (before the workout) the athlete eats moderate to low glycemic foods depending on how much time remains until the race begins. The more time there is before the race or workout, the more moderate the glycemic index of the food should be.
Stage 5--the remainder of the day--is the real key to weight loss and is the second principle. During this time the athlete focuses meals on vegetables, fruits and lean proteins, especially from animal sources. Lean protein is best found in ocean-caught fish, free-ranging turkey breast, egg whites, and wild game. In stage 5 snack with moderation on nuts, berries, seeds, fruit, and dried fruit.
The best recovery foods for stages 3 and 4 are potatoes, yams, raisins, bananas, and, to a lesser extent, grains (cereal, pasta, rice, corn). Foods best avoided altogether or eaten in very small servings are dairy and legumes. If you're concerned about calcium intake relative to dairy, don't be. It's a non-issue with the Paleo diet. You can see our book for the details and supporting research on this topic and others.
Back to the body weight issue... This past weekend I did a series of clinics in New York City at Jack Rabbit Sports. A young woman there told me she had lost 15 pounds following the Paleo diet and was training better than ever. I often hear similar comments from athletes from around the world. I've also seen this diet work with the athletes I coach which have included an Olympian, pro Ironman triathletes, top age groupers in cycling and multisport, and novice athletes.
From time to time, however, someone tells me they don't recover well on the Paleo diet. When I further quiz them I generally find they aren't taking in enough high glycemic carbs in stages 3 and 4. That's key to recovery on this diet.
You can purchase a copy of The Paleo Diet for Athletes here.