The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Cordain and Friel

13 Sep
The Paleo Diet for Athletes

The Paleo Diet for Athletes

Unless you have lived under a rock for the past few years, you have probably heard about the Paleo Diet (“the caveman diet”). The diet purports to emulate the diet that our ancient ancestors had—a lot of meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts, but no refined sugar, grains, legumes or dairy products. For the past couple of years a friend of mine has encouraged me to try the diet out, but diet’s restriction on carbohydrates pretty much ruled it out for me—I am a distance cyclist and on long rides my muscle glycogen stores would be depleted before I got halfway through my ride. However, while browsing on a few months ago I found a book titled, The Paleo Diet For Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula For Peak Athletic Performance, by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel (Rodale Books; revised edition; September 2012). If you are an athlete and have either started or are considering starting the Paleo Diet you really need this book!

The entire Paleo Diet is summed up in just one paragraph from the book: “The fundamental dietary principles of the Paleo Diet for Athletes is simplicity itself: unrestricted consumption of fresh meats, poultry, seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Foods that are not part of the modern-day Paleolithic fare include cereal grains, dairy products, high-glycemic fruits and vegetables, legumes, alcohol, salty foods, processed meats, refined sugars, and nearly all processed foods.”

While I disagree with Cordain and Friel on the origin and development of mankind, I sincerely appreciate this book. The first third of the book deals with the nutritional requirements of athletes and this section alone is worth the price of the book! This is absolutely the best treatment of the nutritional requirements for athletes I’ve ever seen—especially for endurance athletes. The second section of the book discusses the authors views of the development of our stone age ancestors (interesting reading, but we all have different views on this matter). The last section of the book give 80 Paleo “energy-packed” recipes—again, interesting reading but there are better Paleo cookbooks on the market.

Thirteen years ago, before I started cycling, I was morbidly obese and in terrible health. In hindsight I realize that the majority of my problems came from a poor diet and lifestyle. At that time I held elected public office and served on the board of directors for nearly a dozen civic groups, which meant I seldom found time for a real meal, and never had time for either proper exercise or sleep. My road to recovery started with the Atkins Diet and cycling—then I gradually withdrew from public life and started focusing more on my health.

While I’ve basically followed the Atkins Diet for thirteen years, I couldn’t follow their guidelines while cycling because a low-carb diet just isn’t compatible with endurance sports like distance cycling. The Paleo Diet is more of a “sensible carb” diet than a “low carb” diet. In fact, The Paleo Diet For Athletes has convinced me to consume more carbs during and after a long bike ride than I had before! Switching from the Atkins Diet to the Paleo Diet was not a problem at all for me—basically I just had to give up dairy products and cereal grains. The surgeon who repaired my esophagus back in June had already told me I needed to give up dairy products, and I’ve always felt uncomfortable after eating cereal grains anyway. So, switching to the Paleo Diet was really easy for me and the food tastes so much better!

The biggest difference between the normal Paleo Diet and the Paleo Diet For Athletes is the use of carb gels before, during and after exercise. As the author states on page seven of the book, “Perhaps the most important refinement made to my original Paleo Diet was Joe’s recognition that consumption of starches and simple sugars was necessary and useful only during exercise and in the immediate postexercise period.” In my case, for example, they would recommend that I consume a 100-calorie pack of carb gel 10 minutes before my bike ride, then 300 calories of gels and/or sports drinks per hour during the ride, followed by 600 calories of carbohydrates within 30 minutes after the ride (along with protein powder). The amount of carbs gels you need will vary depending on your weight and the length and intensity of your exercise.

I realize that some people would never try the Paleo Diet because it involves the consumption of red meat. If you are a vegetarian due to religious beliefs I can accept that without any problem. If you are a vegetarian because you think that makes you morally superior to the rest of us, well, you have my sympathy. If you are a member of PETA please feel free to stop by my office and I’ll grab a crayon and big piece of construction paper so I can explain the facts of life to you in a way you can understand (hint: human beings are carnivores and we have eight incisors for a reason—and it’s not so we can tear into pieces of tofu).

In case you can’t tell, I really like the Paleo Diet For Athletes! Like most men, I would rather die than count calories or have to measure my food before every meal. On the Paleo Diet I’m eating a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a sensible portion of animal-based protein (red meat, fish, turkey, chicken, etc.) at every meal. It seems like I am never hungry and my weight is still dropping and energy levels are increasing.

The Paleo Diet For Athletes retails for $16 in paperback, and has it for $13 (or $9 for the Kindle version). As I mentioned above, if you are an athlete you need to read the section of this book on the nutritional requirements of athletes, even if you don’t follow the Paleo Diet.


Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Sports Nutrition


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40 responses to “The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Cordain and Friel

  1. cupcaketravels

    September 13, 2013 at 5:18 AM

    Interesting, as a scientist I also have issues with many things surrounding the ‘paleo’ trend, but I am interested to read your thoughts as an athlete, as both my husband and I have improved our diets and lost weight along with our cycling. Just curious, as you consume more carbs now with long rides – are these simply fruit & vegetable carbs but more of them?

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 13, 2013 at 8:33 AM

      Thank you for your note — it made me realize that I left out something in my review! I’ve added this paragraph:

      The biggest difference between the normal Paleo Diet and the Paleo Diet For Athletes is the use of carb gels before, during and after exercise. As the author states on page seven of the book, “Perhaps the most important refinement made to my original Paleo Diet was Joe’s recognition that consumption of starches and simple sugars was necessary and useful only during exercise and in the immediate postexercise period.” In my case, for example, they would recommend that I consume a 100-calorie pack of carb gel 10 minutes before my bike ride, then 300 calories of gels and/or sports drinks per hour during the ride, followed by 600 calories of carbohydrates within 30 minutes after the ride (along with protein powder). The amount of carbs gels you need will vary depending on your weight and the length and intensity of your exercise.

      • Gwen Stephens

        September 13, 2013 at 9:43 AM

        I remember your post about carb gels. Seems like an odd recommendation from a platform that discourages the consumption of processed foods. Still, new knowledge is always great. Thanks for this very informed post.

      • cupcaketravels

        September 14, 2013 at 8:04 AM

        Ah, thanks for clarifying 🙂

  2. Gwen Stephens

    September 13, 2013 at 7:06 AM

    So the main difference between the traditional Paleo diet and the Athletic version is the inclusion of low-glycemic fruits in the latter? Do you consume most of your carbs through fruits?

    I looked at the Paleo diet for the first time over the summer and did briefly consider it, but ultimately rejected it because it’s too extreme. I think even the Paleo diet for Athletes wouldn’t work for me (but I admire you for going for it). I find giving up whole categories of any food is hard. We live in a world that’s full of bad food, and for that reason, I do buy certain processed foods. Where I struggle is with my kids, who are surrounded by crappy foods daily in their schools’ lunchrooms. I let them eat limited amounts of junk foods, because I don’t want it to become the forbidden fruit. I try to focus on a healthy overall diet, fresh fruits and veggies every day with sensible portions sizes. It’s a struggle, though, and I’m sure given your background you understand completely.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 13, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      Gwen, please see the note above and the additional paragraph I’ve added to the review. Like I said in the article, giving up dairy was not a big deal because my doctor had already suggested it; giving up grains was not a big deal either since I function better without them. However, we are all different!

  3. Ed

    September 13, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    I will be interested in checking it out. A number of years ago I followed the South Beach Diet with good results. I don’t follow it strictly at this point, but use it as a general guideline for healthier eating (less fat, processed food and simple carbs). I do deviate from some of his guidelines. For example I eat quite a bit of fruit, while SBD seems to avoid a lot of it. I think one key to many of these plans is that they guide many of us to healthier diets and away from all of the junk that is prevalent today. The trick for many of us is to find what works and what you will enjoy so that you can stay with it and avoid the yoyo of weight loss and gain. Good luck!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 13, 2013 at 8:37 AM

      I am not necessarily recommending The Paleo Diet to other people — just saying that it is working for me. The high consumption of fruit and vegetables in the Paleo Diet seems to agree with me.

      • Ed

        September 13, 2013 at 10:06 AM

        Just to clarify- I think that the great thing about all of these diets is that they encourage people to look carefully at what they consume and hopefully move into the realm of healthier eating. I understand where your comments were coming from and just wanted to offer a relevant experience of mine. I appreciate your comments and reviews. Heck, anything to get folks to eat less junk and to get off the couch a little more often. Your site does a great job to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Keep up the great work (on the bike and the blog)

  4. Kyle Hollasch

    September 13, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    Why did your surgeon tell you to give up dairy? Was this a result of GERD?

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 13, 2013 at 9:13 AM

      Not exactly GERD, but very similar. I had a growth on the lower esophageal sphincter and it was basically holding the “valve” open and allowing stomach acid to pour into my esophagus — causing pulmonary aspiration. The doctor thought I should stop dairy products and caffeine (giving up dairy was a LOT easier than giving up caffeine).

  5. thecreatordeems

    September 13, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Anyone who doesn’t agree with Paleo needs to see pictures of me a year ago versus today. Gluten(AKA most processed foods’ additive) and casein from ‘dead cow milk’ bought in the local store were slowly killing me and my kids. My mental acuity, overall health,stamina, and digestive process have improved by leaps and bounds. I’ve lost 40 of 100 unwanted pounds so far.
    The only beef I have with you is in the ‘dairy’ statement. If people would try raw goat/cow milk, cheeses, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, etc. instead of homogenized dead dairy products, we could change the health of the world. Homogenization has altered the milk globules with horrible ramifications to our overall health. Properly collected raw milk from goats is the closest thing in existence to mother’s milk. The nutrients, protein, natural fats are an amazing addition to a holistic, paleo lifestyle, and kids love it.
    Anyway, just a thought. Keep truckin’….

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 13, 2013 at 8:25 PM

      I don’t have any problem with other people eating dairy products — it’s just that I can’t. I really do like cows — I was raised on a farm in central Indiana and we raised Holstein cattle.

  6. Lisa

    September 13, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    That was probably the best paragraph of carnivore apologetics I’ve ever read. In curious if you’ve tried some of the fruit/veggie blend squeezes? I’ve been seeing one of my fav pro mtn bikers use what looks to me to be baby food but he swears it’s better than gels.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 13, 2013 at 8:28 PM

      Coming from a “Bike Nerd, Science Dork, Outdoor Enthusiast” that was a wonderful compliment — thanks! I have not tried the fruit/veggie blend squeezes — in fact, I’ve never seen them. If you can find out a brand name I would sincerely appreciate it if you would send it to me — I’d love to try them out.

      • Lisa

        September 13, 2013 at 8:39 PM
        It really is baby food.
        Power Bar also has fruit pouches that come designated for before, during or after depending on the carb/protein ratio of the pouch. Have some. Haven’t tried it yet.

        • All Seasons Cyclist

          September 13, 2013 at 8:46 PM

          Thanks for the link! I reviewed the Power Bar version a few weeks ago — the ingredients were OK, but I just couldn’t handle the baby food texture.

        • Lisa

          September 13, 2013 at 8:48 PM

          Dang. I think I saw that & forgot. I’ve had the pouches for a few weeks but no desire to try them. Maybe you’re why.

        • All Seasons Cyclist

          September 13, 2013 at 8:51 PM

          You could at least try them at home and see if you like the texture (it made me gag).

        • cupcaketravels

          September 14, 2013 at 8:03 AM

          I’ve tried a local brand of fruit snacks in pouches just like that – I think they’re great on a long ride, but my husband thinks they’re revolting! 😀

  7. Crash MacDuff

    September 13, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    Reblogged this on rxmacduff.

  8. EmmaNutrition

    September 14, 2013 at 2:06 AM

    Great review! As you’ve highlighted there’s no ‘one diet for everyone’ solution but we must find what works for us as individuals.

  9. claireluc1201

    September 14, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    I’m about to write a research paper about carbs and the primal diet (which I follow) and I want to thank you for this post! Ill be buying this book soon!!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 14, 2013 at 9:36 PM

      I would LOVE to see your research paper when you are finished (but I know some people are really protective of their papers).

      • claireluc1201

        September 14, 2013 at 10:09 PM

        Absolutely!! I will let you know when it’s done and you can read it!

        • All Seasons Cyclist

          September 14, 2013 at 10:10 PM

          Thank you very much!

        • claireluc1201

          September 16, 2013 at 7:49 AM

          Just order the book yesterday! Along with a Paleo cook book!!

  10. Diane

    September 14, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    Your hint is hilarious! 🙂 Btw, a lot of people I know also combine the Paleo diet with the “keto” diet. I wonder how that’d affect athletes.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 14, 2013 at 9:36 PM

      I don’t know the answer to your question — but would love to find out!

  11. JennyO

    September 14, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    I had a friend of mine interested in doing this but had concerns, I’ll have to send her this book link. 😀

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 14, 2013 at 9:38 PM

      Thank you for sending her the link. Let her know I have no problems doing Century rides while following the Paleo Diet for Athletes — and my recovery time has improved as well.

  12. Sandra

    September 15, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    My sister, 40 and is an Olympic distance triathlete and half marathoner, just started a version of the “nutrient rich” (what she calls paleo–she and hubby are anthropologists and take issue with the legitimacy of calling it paleo). They did so because his family is prone toward diabetes and this is also about as close to a diabetic’s diet (in their view) as they can do. They shifted to almond milk (coconut milk makes them think they’re drinking coppertone :-). We loved the recipes when we visited, had no problem eating that awesome spread. He has lost 12 pounds and she has lost a little but has far more energy.
    Good luck!!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 15, 2013 at 8:36 PM

      I also love the “nutrient rich” description better than Paleo — and it really does describe why I switched to it!

      • Sandra

        September 16, 2013 at 6:53 AM

        Agreed. I am definitely buying that book –as you say, if for no other reason than to learn what an athlete needs. 🙂

  13. thehomeschoolingdoctor

    September 16, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    I enjoyed the review. Thank you! I noted that you were from “central Indiana.” Hubby and I are both from Miami County, Indiana (near Peru)–farm kids also. Small world! Need to go find your gel post. Somebody asked me about this the other day. Cheers.

  14. happynapkinface

    September 18, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Nice insight! I am in love with the Paleo/Primal food. I do eat dairy, but I understand why others don’t… My body just tolerates it extremely well. 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 18, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      Thank you much! I sure do miss chocolate milk — it was my favorite recovery drink!


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