Paleo food for athletes is a hot topic. For me, athletic performance = training + recovery + nutrition. If any part of that triad falls by the wayside, my performance suffers. Nutrition is such an important aspect of the total package, and it can seem really hard to dial in.
Several folks have asked that I share some suggestions for how to fit paleo into pre-, intra- and post-workout scenarios.
There are a ton of factors to consider before you adopt some of these nutrition strategies though, so be sure you pick something appropriate for your needs…in other words, don’t go out for a 5 hour mountain bike ride and only bring water and one Lara bar.
What type of exercise are you doing? How long of a time domain? Are you doing long slow distance training, intervals, weightlifting, etc? You must know the metabolic demand of your training if you’re going to adequately fuel. A traditional CrossFit metcon is going to really tap into your glycogen stores while an Olympic lifting session is going to run off of your phosphagen system.
A 3+ hour mountain bike ride/race is going to probably necessitate a supplementation of protein while a set of short intervals will not. You can go pretty far down the rabbit hole (as Robb Wolf would say) in terms of dialing in the adequate ratio of macronutrients for your needs. Check out this article to see what I mean.
One of the biggest mistakes athletes in the CF/Paleo camp seem to make is eating too low carb, running down their glycogen stores and feeling flat and worn out. If you do high intensity metcon-type workouts, you will want to seriously consider your intake of carbs (like sweet potato/yam/plantain/squash, etc) post-workout.
A good (very general) rule of thumb is: pre-workout fuel should be a mix of fat and protein while post-workout recovery should be protein and carbs (fat slows down the process of digestion and in the post-workout window, it’s widely accepted that fat should be avoided). How much you eat and how much you replenish with is totally dependent on your own needs and the demands of your sport.
During your workout, you may decide to supplement with BCAAs (branched chain amino acids), for example, if you are doing a strength workout. If you are a cyclist out doing a 50 mile endurance race or ride, again, your context changes the scenario completely and you may need a mix of carb and protein while you’re on the bike.
Personally, in the post-workout window, I stay away from protein powders and shakes because I honestly feel like the nutrients I need I can get from food. Isn’t that where these products come from anyway?
It does take a bit more preparation and planning to bring actual food for your post-workout refuel but it’s something that’s easily do-able.
Here are some of my personal favorites that I’ve used for training, whether it’s for CrossFit, mountain biking, triathlon or running:
- Elete electrolyte replacement
- Coconut water with a pinch of salt
- Baked yam/sweet potato, this can be pureed with a bit of water and put in a gel flask
- Fruit/vegetable blends from Peter Rabbit Organics and the like, this is basically baby food in a squeezable pouch. Be sure to scan the label for any non-paleo friendly ingredients
- Fruit leathers
- Dates or other dried fruit
- Fresh fruit such as banana
- Homemade beef jerky
- Chunks of meat or ground beef (when I’m in the gym and can bring a personal-sized cooler)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Coconut flakes
- Lara bars, homemade or store bought
Incorporating New Foods
As always, please don’t make the mistake of trying something new in your nutrition plan on the day of a competition or race. It’s a common rookie mistake but one that can lead you dehydrated, under-fueled and bonking or with food/drink sloshing around in your gut.