Dear Mountain Mama,
Many of my friends follow a Paleo lifestyle. That means that they don’t eat grains, bread, pasta, potatoes, sugar, or processed carbs. They claim that the feel great and have encouraged me to try a 30-day Paleo challenge.
I’m a runner. Is it healthy for me to keep my mileage up and run on a Paleo diet?
Dear Runner Guy,
Paleo eating has definitely caught on, and many feel transformed by the weight loss and energy gain they feel as a result. Eating Paleo means there are a lot of foods you can’t eat. But like everything in life, it might be better to focus on the positive – what you can eat. Eating Paleo means a high fat, medium protein, and low carb diet, including lots of meat (preferably organic, grass fed), eggs (free range), fish (not farmed), non starchy vegetables, berries and some other fruit in moderation, and nuts.
Prior to the agricultural revolution, our ancestors ate Paleo, which is why it’s been dubbed the “caveman diet.” Cavemen didn’t run long distances, and had no need to eat gels or gulp energy drinks. But Runner Guy, you may require quick acting carbs depending on how long you run. As a general rule, most people can run for one hour or less without requiring carb supplements like gels or sport drinks.
Without enough energy, some runner’s suffer a low blood sugar level and may experience “bonking.” When it happens, your body’s desire to nestle down in a gutter may override your brain’s willpower to keep going. Once after a long run in New Zealand I reported to a group of friends that I had “bonked” around mile 10. They laughed hysterically and high-fived me before letting me in on the joke – Kiwis use the term bonk to refer to sex, which would have been a much more fun diversion during a long run.
Runner Guy, let’s talk about the science behind following a Paleo eating regime, which is that the body will learn to burn fat for fuel since so few carbs are readily available for energy. For longer runs, most people’s bodies aren’t able to burn fat fast enough to keep up with their energy requirements.
Many ultra runners who follow a Paleo diet modify it somewhat. They load up on nutrient-rich complex carbs like yams and winter squash before races instead of pasta and bread. But they do tweak the Paleo guidelines so that they consume higher amounts of carbohydrates required for their performance and recovery needs. Most claim that returning to a strict Paleo diet a day or two after a long mileage diet helps them keep their weight down and ensure that they maintain even blood insulin levels.
Runner Guy, give the Paleo lifestyle a try and see how it goes. Be flexible and listen to your body.