Today’s post from registered dietitian Sarah Brett provides an overview of a few ways the Paleo diet can enhance athletic performance:
1. Building and Repairing Muscle
The key to building and repairing muscle is lean protein, and the Paleo diet is high in lean meats and fish. These foods are packed with the branched chain amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Also known as BCAAs, these amino acids are potent stimulants for building and repairing muscle, and are most effective when consumed post-exercise. By consuming lean protein, athletes can rapidly reverse the natural breakdown of muscle that occurs following a workout, improve recovery time, and therefore train at greater intensity during their next workout.
2. Preventing Muscle Breakdown
Prevent muscle protein breakdown by creating a net metabolic alkalosis. The grains, cheeses, and salty, processed foods that make up a typical American diet also produce an abundance of acid in the blood and tissue. A diet like this, in conjunction with the byproducts of exercise, makes an athlete’s body even more prone to blood acidosis. One way the body neutralizes an acid-producing diet is by breaking down muscle tissue. The Paleo diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, which are “base” or alkaline foods that reverse metabolic acidosis, thus helping to prevent muscle loss.
3. Optimizing Immune System Functions
Fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which promote optimum immune system functions. These nutrients will reduce the frequency and duration of colds, flu, and upper respiratory problems. A healthy athlete can train more consistently and intensely, thus, improving their performance.
4. Maintaining Muscle Fuel
Maintaining high stores of glycogen in muscle tissue gives athletes optimum fuel for high-level performance. Muscles can build all the glycogen they need when they get starch and sugar in the narrow timeframe following exercise, so glycogen synthesis occurs most effectively in the immediate post-exercise window. Eating carbs all day long is overkill and actually serves to displace the muscle-building lean proteins and alkalinity-enhancing, nutrient dense fruits and vegetables that are needed to promote muscle growth and boost the immune system. Consumption of starch and simple sugars is necessary and useful only during exercise and the immediate post-exercise period. Glucose and net-alkaline-producing starches found in bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams are more effective than other carbohydrates in restoring muscle glycogen.
Now remember, the Paleo diet foods you CAN eat:
- Lean meat
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
Foods that are NOT part of the Paleo diet:
- Cereal grains
- Dairy products
- High-glycemic fruits and vegetables, or legumes
- Salty foods
- Fatty meats
- Refined sugars
- Processed foods
Sarah Brett, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietician with over 17 years of professional experience providing individual nutrition therapy, training professionals and parents, and educating students at the university and junior college level. She specializes in integrative and functional medicines, whole foods, and treating the whole person.