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Five Ways To Get Started With the Paleo Diet

BY Nell Stephenson

Eating healthier is a common resolution for many athletes. Here are five ways to get started with the Paleo diet.

Are you heading into the early season prepared for your best racing performance yet? Along with the obvious planning and training, there are other areas that athletes can focus on to see improvement. Perhaps you’re ready to address an area that many underestimate the significance of- your nutrition regime.

All too often in the world of endurance sports we get the message that we just need to get the calories in, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, many of us find out the hard way that this approach may not be the best bet and can lead to disastrous repercussions come race day.

Are you ready for a new nutritional protocol? The Paleo Diet is, hands down, the best recommendation I can make. It’s grown so much in popularity over the years. Back in 2005 when I first began applying the principles to my own lifestyle, it was more likely that someone would think I was referring to the study of dinosaurs when the word ‘Paleo’ would come up. It’s now all over the media and there are now countless blogs, cookbooks food products and even food trucks now touting that they’ve gone Paleo!

But is the Paleo Diet all it’s cracked up to be? That depends on which version you’re familiar with. As with any type of eating approach, the more people become familiar with it, the more variations arise, some of which aren’t too far off the mark; others so much so that they’re akin to a vegan diet that includes eating steak! Rather than go into too much detail and focus on what it isn’t, let’s address what it is:

The key to the Paleo diet, in the words of Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD, author of The Paleo Diet (Wiley & Sons 2002) is to simply mimic the food groups our ancestors ate with modern day foods we can easily find in our farmer’s markets, health food stress and even our own backyards.
In other words, if it’s produce that grows locally and is in season, or if it’s a wild, or naturally raised meat, fish, poultry or game, it’s something we should be eating. If it’s not…well, we shouldn’t.

The premise of this approach is equally simple: research has shown a high correlation with consuming foodstuffs common in today’s typical diet and a high incidence of many illnesses, ranging from mild to severe.  

When foodstuff such as cereal grains, dairy products, refined carbohydrates and sugars, salts and additives comprise the bulk of one’s diet, several negative health consequences occur, beginning with a condition called leaky gut and inflammation throughout the body.

While some might view it as restrictive or extreme, I find it to be quite the opposite.   If we consider all the fresh produce we can eat, the wide array of protein choices and the endless combinations we can create, which not only taste delicious, but leave us full of energy and ready to train and race, it truly is a win-win situation.

If you’re new to the concept and would like some basics on getting started, here are five steps to follow to get you on the right path; and why not do it now, when the New Year is upon us? Remember, instead of getting too hung up on what you’re not eating (grains, dairy, legumes), you can focus on what you are!

1. Add Vegetables

Then add more vegetables and then add more vegetables. In the last two decades of working with clients, I’ve found that nearly no one eats enough. Every meal, aside from those eaten around the time of a training session, should have a nice solid portion of fresh seasonal veggies; the more variety the better! Since veggies have 7 to 11 times the amount of fiber that cereal grains contain, there’s no need to worry about lack there of, after cutting out your beloved bran muffins or oatmeal!

2. Add Good Fat

Far too many are still stuck in the 1990’s mentality of low fat or even worse, fat free, being the way to go. By incorporating avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, some raw nuts in moderation as well as oily wild fish, like wild salmon or black cod into our daily repertoire, we provide our bodies with a solid dose of all the fatty acids we need which help us feel satiated at each meal, keep our energy levels steady all day long and support every system in our body.

3. Spice it Up

Thinking it’s boring and bland if you’re not dousing your steak in sauce or serving up your chicken in a sauce? When you go local and fresh, you’ll actually want to taste the actual taste of the meat itself, or the chicken or the fish. When you feel free to choose your favorite fresh or dried herbs and spices to compliment the flavors, rather than mask them, you’ll find the possibilities are even more endless than you thought!

4. Eat More Often and Eat in Balance

There are some proponents within the Paleosphere that suggest ‘eat unlimited fat’ or ‘calories don’t count’; neither of which are actually accurate.   However, if you eat in balance in terms of making sure each meal has a good portion of complex carbs coming primarily from veggies, protein coming from wild fish, grass fed meat or pastured chicken or turkey and a good dose of fat, you’ll find you’re more satiated, have a more balanced blood sugar level and steadier energy all day long and won’t have that 3pm blood sugar crash to deal with in the first place!

5. Don’t Believe the Hype

That athletes have to eat bagels and pasta to prepare for training and racing, or that we have to train solely on refined sugar-based sports nutrition products. By following a true Paleo regime day in and day out, we naturally train our bodies to thrive better gearing more toward a fat burning metabolism versus carbohydrate. When we start fine-tuning in to how Paleo is conducive to supporting high performance athleticism at a competitive level, it becomes even more alluring on a whole new level.

Implementing the principles of the Paleo diet back in 2005 was what allowed me to go from an average age group participant to a competitive Ironman athlete. It was around that time that I first read The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Dr. Loren Cordain and Joe Friel, MS. It changed my entire life as an athlete and helped me to qualify for Kona seven times so far.

Interested in learning more about how to cater your eating into your own endurance-training regime?

My newest publication, Pocket Paleo, Workouts, is part of a series of three books, tailored to what to eat for specific occasions; Paleo Breakfasts and Snacks rounding out the set, are available now on amazon for pre-order and will be released on January 5th.

With a foreword written by none other than Joe Friel himself and 50 recipes that offer options to make Paleo life as an athlete even easier, they’re a must-have for your athlete’s kitchen.

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The Ultimate Full-Distance Training Guide

Training Guide

This guide is designed to be used as you train for a full-distance triathlon, with in-depth information on every part of the process. Each chapter is packed with tips, workouts, and insights from triathlon coaches, to give you all the tools you need to succeed.

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About Nell Stephenson

Nell Stephenson, personal fitness trainer, nutritional counselor, Paleolithic eating coach & athlete, graduated from University of Southern California In Los Angeles, with a BS in Exercise Science, and received her Health/Fitness Instructor Certification from the American College of Sports Medicine. ‘Read more about Nell and view her nutrition plans on TrainingPeaks here.