The Paleo diet puts a large emphasis on consuming foods that were hunted or gathered as our “caveman” ancestors did in the Paleolithic era. This would include foods such as meats, fruit, and vegetables; while eliminating added sugar, salt, whole grains, dairy and legumes like beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. Proponents of the plan claim that if we eat in this fashion, we’ll reduce our risk of the chronic diseases that plague modern society. However by eliminating entire food groups such as grains and dairy, we may be falling short of a well-balanced diet and deplete the body of critical nutrients contained in those foods- one of which is fiber (AND, 2013). Additionally, the fiber contained within whole grains and legumes has been linked to lowering incidences of chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers and can help you feel full faster if you’re trying to lose weight (Slavin, 2002). The Paleo plan is also high in protein and lower in carbohydrates which like most high protein diets, may cause the kidneys to work a bit harder-a concern for anyone whether athlete or not. But there are other specific issues that athletes need to be aware of before considering this plan.
The first consideration goes back to the basics of nutrition and that has to do with balance. An ideal well-balanced diet contains all the macronutrients-protein, carbohydrates, and fat, working together in a way that supports the athlete both before and after competitions/workouts. Because carbohydrates are our primary source of fuel, too little may lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) issues which may inadvertently impact energy, endurance and performance. Additionally, an athlete should strive to replace carbohydrates utilized during performance to help restore optimal muscle glycogen for their next practice- a task that may be hindered on a low-carbohydrate plan.
Another potential issue involves electrolyte replenishment. We lose a great deal of salt/sodium (an electrolyte) in perspiration. Sodium is necessary to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure control. Strictly following the Paleo plan would mean the elimination of added salt in the diet-which could make the restoration of fluid and electrolyte balance lost after exercise (a primary goal in recovery nutrition), a bit more difficult.
Lastly, because the Paleo diet eliminates all dairy, a major source of calcium and vitamin D in the typical American diet, we may be placing our athletes more at risk for incidence of stress fractures and other potential deficiency issues.
All things considered, it may be more advantageous for the athlete to follow a moderate, well-balanced plan containing all major food groups to ensure that they remain healthy and in peak condition.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), Should We Eat Like Our Caveman Ancestors?http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442471551&terms=p
aleo, April 2013.
Slavin JL. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Volume 102, Issue 7, 993-1000, July 2002.