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The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance by [Loren Cordain, Joe Friel]

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The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance Kindle Edition

4.3 4.3 out of 5 stars 359 ratings

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About the Author

LOREN CORDAIN, PhD, a world-renowned scientist and expert on Paleolithic diets, is a professor in the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

JOE FRIEL, MS, is founder and president of Ultrafit, LLC, an association of elite endurance coaches. His books include
The Cyclist's Training Bible and The Triathlete's Training Bible. He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



When Joe and I began writing
The Paleo Diet for Athletes in 2004, books on low-carbohydrate diets such as Dr. Atkins's New Diet Revolution, Protein Power, the Zone, and the South Beach Diet had ruled the bestselling book lists for at least a decade. At the time, millions of Americans lost weight with diets that flew directly in the face of conventional medical and nutritional wisdom, which advocated low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets. If we fast-forward to 2012, most (but not all) things have remained the same. The USDA replaced its "Food Pyramid" with the "MyPlate" in June 2011; however, the change was only cosmetic in nature, as the same old low-fat, high- carbohydrate recommendations remained firmly in place. The Zone and Protein Power have disappeared from the bestseller lists, only to be replaced by the latest reincarnation of Atkins and The South Beach Diet. In the ensuing 7 years since our book was first published, a new concept has arrived on the dietary scene that threatens to displace not only the low-carb diets but also government-and institution-recommended low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets.

In the past 2 years, Paleo diets have become internationally known, and books such as
The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Solution, The Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Paleo Comfort Foods, Everyday Paleo, The Paleo Answer, Make It Paleo, The Primal Blueprint, Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, and others have dominated the bestseller lists. In Figure 1.1 from Google Trends from a search of "Paleo Diet", it is apparent that, except for a small group of dedicated followers, the Paleo Diet concept was virtually unknown to the world in the 4 years following the publication of our book in 2005. In contrast, during the past 2 years, "Paleo" has literally become a household word and is perhaps the hottest new concept in diet, health, nutrition, and lifestyle. More important, as we will show you, the fundamental science behind contemporary diets based upon Stone Age food groups underlies their acceptance in both the scientific and popular literature.

A similar revolution in dietary thinking has made waves in the sports world by athletes worldwide who happen to be privy to this way of eating that has dramatically improved their athletic performances. Their dietary formula for success was not accidentally stumbled upon by trial and error but resulted from a chance conversation between two old friends, Joe Friel and myself, in the spring of 1995.

Fast-forward 17 years. Joe has become an internationally recognized coach of world-class athletes, has written 11 bestselling books on athletic training, and is a worldwide authority on endurance training. Meanwhile, Loren, a university professor, has become a leading international scientific authority on Stone Age (Paleolithic) diets, and has written more than 50 scientific papers on the topic as well as five popular diet books. Had Joe and I not had that conversation in the spring of 1995, the small ripple that eventually became a tidal wave concerning diet and athletic performance likely never would have surfaced.



In 1995, I challenged Joe to give the Paleo Diet a try. Joe had been a longtime adherent to the standard very high-carbohydrate diet for athletes and was skeptical of my claim that eating less starch would benefit performance. Nearly every successful endurance athlete that Joe had known ate as he did, with a heavy emphasis on cereals, bagels, bread, rice, pasta, pancakes, and potatoes. In fact, Joe had done quite well on this diet as an All-American duathlete (run-bike-run) in his age group, winning national races and finishing in the top 10 at World Championships. Joe had also coached many successful athletes, both professional and amateur, who ate the same way he did.

I suggested Joe try eating a diet more in line with the Paleo Diet for 1 month. Joe took the challenge, determined to show me that eating as he had for years was the way to go. He started by simply cutting back significantly on starches and dairy and replacing those lost calories with fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Although a simple formula, it wasn't easy at first.

For the first 2 weeks, Joe felt miserable. His recovery following workouts was slow, and his workouts were sluggish. He figured he was well on his way to proving that I was wrong. But in week 3, a curious thing happened. He noticed not only that he was feeling better but also that his recovery following workouts was speeding up significantly, and he decided to experiment to see how many hours he could train. Since his early forties (he was 51 at the time), he had not been able to train more than about 12 hours per week; whenever he exceeded that weekly volume, upper respiratory infections would soon set him back. In week 4, he trained 16 hours without a sign of a cold, sore throat, or ear infection. He was amazed--he hadn't done that many hours in nearly 15 years. He decided to keep the experiment going. That year Joe finished third at the US National Championship with an excellent race and qualified for the US team for the World Championships. He had a stellar season, one of his best in years.

Joe's little experiment proved to have far-reaching effects. After making certain refinements to my basic Paleo Diet, Joe found this way of eating to be "ergogenic," a term exercise physiologists use to describe nutritional supplements that can enhance athletic performance. By the late 1990s, Joe was recommending the Paleo Diet to the athletes he coached, including Ryan Bolton, a member of the US Olympic Triathlon team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a winner of the Ironman USA Triathlon. Increasingly, by word of mouth and the Internet, athletes worldwide were becoming aware of the competitive edge they could gain by adopting a diet based upon my dietary principles and fine-tuned by Joe's practical experience with it.

The Paleo Diet for Athletes is not just for world-class performers like Ryan Bolton and Gordo Bryn (an ardent devotee of the Paleo Diet and past winner of the Ultraman Triathlon and the World's Toughest Half-Ironman Triathlon) but also for everyday fitness enthusiasts like Don Moffat. Here's Don's story.

I wish I had known about the Paleo Diet 5 years ago, when I was a sub-3- hour marathoner before my health started breaking down due to insulin resistance-related issues. Following a high-protein, low-carb diet for the last 2 months has created startling results in my fitness. I've lost 3 inches from my waist (down to 32), and I can't believe how, at 38, I'm putting on muscle. My run times have dropped by 25 percent. (I'm still not fast again, but I'm seeing steady, week-to-week progress.) I find the increase in muscle strength particularly gratifying, as this was always a problem for me before, even in my early twenties. It's sort of like getting some youth back.


There is indeed a method to this madness, and I have uncovered the scientific basis for the effectiveness of the modification of the original Paleo Diet. In a nutshell, there are four basic reasons the Paleo Diet enhances athletic performance.

1. Branched-chain amino acids. First, the diet is high in animal protein, which is the richest source of the branched-chain amino acids--valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are different from other amino acids that collectively make up protein in that they are potent stimulants for building and repairing muscle. This information is new and has been reported in the scientific literature only in the past decade. But the dig is this: These amino acids work best when consumed in the postexercise window.

Lean meats and fish are far and away the greatest sources of BCAA. A 1,000- calorie serving of lean beef provides 33.7 grams of BCAA, whereas the same serving of whole grains supplies a paltry 6 grams. Because most endurance athletes focus on starches (breads, cereals, pasta, rice, and potatoes) and sugars at the expense of lean meats, particularly following a hard workout, they get precious little muscle-building BCAA in their diets. By consuming high amounts of animal protein (and hence BCAA) along with sufficient carbohydrate, athletes can rapidly reverse the natural breakdown of muscle that occurs following a workout and thereby reduce recovery time and train at a greater intensity at the next session. Joe's advice for athletes to increase fresh meats along with plenty of fruits and vegetables now makes perfect sense and explains the athletes' near-universal report of improved recovery with these dietary recommendations.

2. Blood acidity versus alkalinity. In addition to stimulating muscle growth via BCAA, the Paleo Diet for Athletes simultaneously prevents muscle protein breakdown because it produces a net metabolic alkalosis. All foods, upon digestion, report to the kidney as either acid or alkali (base). The typical American diet is net acid producing because of its high reliance upon acid-yielding grains, cheeses, and salty processed foods at the expense of base-producing fruits and veggies. The athlete's body is even more prone to blood acidosis due to the by-products of exercise. One way the body neutralizes a net acid-producing diet is by breaking down muscle tissue. Because the Paleo Diet for Athletes is rich in fruits and veggies, it reverses the metabolic acidosis produced from the typical grain- and starch-laden diet that many athletes consume, thereby preventing muscle loss.

3. Trace nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and, together with fresh meats (excellent sources of zinc and B vitamins), promote optimal immune- system functioning. The refined grains, oils, sugars, and processed foods that represent the typical staples for most athletes are nearly devoid of these trace nutrients. From examining the training logs of numerous people he has coached, Joe found that the frequency and duration of colds, flu, and upper respiratory illnesses are reduced when athletes adopt the Paleo Diet. A healthy athlete, free of colds and illness, can train more consistently and intensely and thereby improve performance.

4. Glycogen stores. One of the most important goals of any athletic diet is to maintain high muscle stores of glycogen, a body fuel absolutely essential for high-level performance. Dietary starches and sugars are the body's number one source for making muscle glycogen. Protein won't do, and neither will fat. Athletes and sports scientists have known this truth for decades. Regrettably, they took this concept to extremes; high starch, cereal-based, carbohydrate-rich diets were followed with near-fanatical zeal 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It is a little-known fact, but, similar to the situation with branched-chain amino acids, glycogen synthesis by muscles occurs most effectively in the immediate postexercise window. Muscles can build all the glycogen they need when they get starch and sugar in the narrow time frame following exercise. Eating carbs all day long is overkill and actually serves to displace the muscle-building animal proteins and alkalinity-enhancing, nutrient-dense fruits and veggies that are needed to promote muscle growth and boost the immune system. 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. Joe has also found that certain carbohydrates are more effective than others in restoring muscle glycogen, particularly specific types of sugar, such as glucose and net alkaline- producing starches found in bananas, sweet potatoes, and yams.


The standard dietary advice given to athletes by sports physiologists, nutritionists, and physicians hasn't changed much in 40 years. It is similar to the USDA's Food Pyramid (recently renamed the MyPlate)--high in grain-based carbohydrates and low in fat--the same diet that many scientists believe is partially responsible for the obesity epidemic in this country. The world now is aware that an alternative exists to the Food Pyramid/MyPlate. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets have proven to be more effective in promoting weight loss than are conventional high- carbohydrate, low-fat diets. Unfortunately, many people in the athletic world are little aware that these same types of diets (higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate) can be extremely effective in enhancing performance. Except for the athletes privy to my research and Joe's practical implementation of it, athletes in general are unaware that an alternative diet exists--a diet that can maximize performance in a range of sports, from bodybuilding and tennis to running and the triathlon.

The Paleo Diet for Athletes was and is revolutionary and is creating an upheaval in the sports world, similar to the commotion set in play by the therapeutic and health effects of the Paleo Diet. The information contained in this book is thoroughly supported by scientific literature, to which Loren continues to make cutting-edge contributions. More important, Joe has shown that the Stone Age diet of our ancient ancestors, with slight modifications, works extremely well for recreational athletes all the way up to Olympians. The Paleo Diet for Athletes has passed the most important test by the most critical audience of all: the athletes themselves.


The essential dietary principles of the Paleo Diet for Athletes are straightforward: You can eat as much fresh meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and veggies as you like. Foods that are not part of modern-day Paleolithic fare include cereal grains, dairy products, legumes, alcohol, salty foods, processed meats, refined sugars, and nearly all processed foods.

There are a number of crucial exceptions to these fundamental rules that will be completely explained in coming chapters. Case in point: Immediately before, during, and after a workout or competition, certain non-Paleo foods should be eaten to promote a quick recovery. During all other times, meals that closely follow the 21st-century Paleolithic diet, described in Chapter 9, will encourage comprehensive long-term recovery and allow you to attain your maximal performance potential.

At first glance, you might think it counterproductive or even foolish to reduce or eliminate two entire food groups (cereal grains and dairy), along with most of the processed foods in your diet. One way of looking at our Paleo dietary recommendations is to compare them with the USDA Food Pyramid/MyPlate, the diet officially recommended by the US government and specifically designed to improve our health and reduce our risk of chronic disease. The USDA has published an extensive handbook, Using the Food Guide Pyramid: A Resource for Nutrition Educators (available on the Web at, in which government dietitians have outlined sample 5-day menus that conform to Food Pyramid guidelines. The USDA has also been gracious enough to provide us with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrient values in its example menus. Consequently, it is a relatively simple exercise to compare modern-day Paleo diets with those officially sanctioned by the USDA.
--This text refers to the paperback edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0093QBOZ2
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Rodale Books; Revised edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 16, 2012
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 5492 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 471 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.3 4.3 out of 5 stars 359 ratings

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Dr. Cordain is a Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 15 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain's scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. Over the past five years his work has focused upon the adverse health effects of the high dietary glycemic load that is ubiquitous in the typical western diet. A number of his recent papers have proposed an endocrine link between dietary induced hyperinsulinemia and acne. Currently, Dr. Cordain’s research team is exploring the connection between dietary elements that increase intestinal permeability (primarily saponins and lectins) and autoimmune disease, particularly multiple sclerosis. Dr. Cordain is the author of more than 100 peer review publications, many of which were funded by both private and governmental agencies. He is the recent recipient of the Scholarly Excellence award at Colorado State University for his contributions into understanding optimal human nutrition. He has lectured extensively on the "Paleolithic Nutrition" concept world wide, and has written three popular books (The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons; The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Rodale Press; The Dietary Cure for Acne) summarizing his research findings.

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