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Paleo Diet for Athletes: Enough Carbs?

The Paleo diet for athletes is a great eating plan, which is high in nutrient dense foods and generally lower in carbohydrates, but not necessarily a low carb diet. This is great for nourishing the body and keeping it healthy, which is important to an athlete in training. The question is, can the Paleo diet for athletes provide the carbohydrates an athlete’s body demands, before and after high intensity training? Let’s take a closer look at exercise, and how athletes can follow the Paleo diet, while still getting the carbs they need.

How Exercise Works

Exercise triggers a release of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline which raises blood sugars to supply energy during the activity. If the body is moving at a slow pace, it has time to use fat as an energy source. However, when training hard, the body will burn the glycogen stores in the body. Athletes commonly have low body fat percentages to begin with, so maintaining proper glycogen stores from carbohydrate foods is critical to fueling workouts.

The Problem with Low Glycogen Stores

If starting a work out with low glycogen levels, performance and work capacity will suffer as an outcome. If following an intense training or work out, and eating a diet low in carbs, the body will eventually show signs of overtraining and exhaustion. Overtraining is a result of training too long and too hard without the appropriate rest times worked into training. It is alright to push the body to the edge, but it is important not to push it over the edge.

Paleo Diet for Athletes

Paleo Diet for Athletes

Symptoms of short term low levels of glycogen repletion may include a decreased ability during training, tiredness / fatigue, longer recovery and DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness – the tender feeling in your muscles after a workout). Longer term results of inadequate glycogen repletion include fatigue, decreased strength levels and an increase in muscular weakness.

In order to ensure glycogen levels are adequate before a work out, and replenished afterwards, those on the Paleo diet for athletes should look to the following high glycemic foods. It is recommended to consume high-glycemic index carbs because they enter the bloodstream fast and allow the body to quickly replenish glycogen stores in the first 30 minutes to an hour after training.

Foods to Replenish Glycogen Stores on the Paleo Diet for Athletes

  • Starchy High Glycemic Index Carbs – Adding artichokes, pumpkins, all types of peas and/or all types of squash in your diet can help replenish glycogen.
  • Root Vegetables- Root vegetables are a great carb choice after a workout, if you bake them the glycemic index naturally rises in foods, like yams, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, yucca, plantains, beets, rutabaga, turnips and potatoes. Yes, even potatoes are a good option while on the Paleo Diet for athletes.
  • Dried Fruit- Dried fruit can increase glycogen stores quickly; it is a great option to snack on after an extreme work out. Try snacking on medjool dates which can give you about 36-72 grams of carbs, or enjoy some dried mangos. The key with these foods is not to overdo them as they can lead to lack of fructose sensitivity, which can inhibit the production of energy. Moderation is crucial with this category.

(A list of Paleo Diet for Athletes approved Starchy vegetables can be found at the bottom of this page)

How much do you need?

The amount of carbs that should be consumed after a workout depends on a few different factors, such as genetics, body-fat percentage, training stage, etc. The goal should be one gram of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight- within an hour after a workout (divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to find out your weight in kilograms.) This can be repeated about every two hours, for up to six hours after training if you are endurance athlete. It is best to only do it right after working out if you are power and strength athlete.

As you can see, the Paleo diet for athletes is beneficial, but carb intake must be carefully considered. Incorporating more high GI carbs into your Paleo eating plan is commonly what athletes need to do to advance their performance, and ensure the diet is supplementing them properly.

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