Being an Athlete on a Paleo Diet

One question I get asked a lot about my eating habits is, “How do you survive without carbohydrates for how frequently you exercise?”  It’s a good question and one that I should have addressed months ago but in all honesty it’s taken me awhile to figure out what works best for my body.

First, here’s some basics on Paleo.  I like diagrams so here’s one that explains the basics of a Paleo diet,

I know, it’s a lot to read but it definitely covers the basics.

What you don’t see are things most people think they might need to fuel for a workout and refuel post workout.  Things like Gatorade, Protein Bars, Protein Powders or other processed fueling products.  Why?  Because living a Paleo lifestyle is about maintaining a healthy clean diet that only includes foods in their purest forms.  Sure there are some processed products that some might consider Paleo but the idea is to get as close to eating from the earth as possible.  Nuts, seeds, healthy fats, meat and lots of vegetables.

Being an athlete on the Paleo diet isn’t hard to do.  It just means that you need to add in a little more carbohydrates than someone who isn’t as active.  The way to do this is by adding in more complex Carbohydrates or starchy vegetables.  I’ll share which vegetables are the best to eat for extra carbs but first let’s talk a little about the level of fitness being done.

The amount of extra carbohydrates is going to vary based on your level of fitness and your goals.  If you are aiming for fat loss or aren’t as active, you don’t need to eat as many starchy vegetables (carbs).  If you’re an athlete participating in activities such as running, crossfit, spinning, or other high intensity training, you definitely need the extra carbs.  The exact amount however varies per individual.  Finding just how much you need is going to be more of a trial and error based on your activity level each day.  A good recommendation for post workout meals for athletes is 50-100 grams in a 30 minute post workout window.

So now let’s talk about what some good sources of carbohydrates are.  To do this, take a look at this wonderful chart from Balanced Bites. As you can see, lots of options!

I’ve discussed my workout/food routine briefly before but here’s a rundown of what I normally eat pre and post workout.

Pre-workout meal early workout (typically 5:30) – A very small meal. Before a workout it is best to use your stored energy for your training session so the pre-workout meal isn’t meant to actually fuel the workout, just send the message to your brain that activity is coming.

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  • handful of macadamia nuts and a slice of turkey
  • handful of nuts and organic unsweetened raisins
  • 1 hard boiled egg with sliced turkey
  • piece of cooked chicken and slice of avocado

Post workout after an early workout (usually within 30 minutes) – Carbohydrate Breakfast – The post workout meal helps the recovery process to move faster and more effectively.  Protein is best for your muscles and to replenish your glycogen stores.

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  • Chicken Sausage, Sweet Potato and Apple Has with an egg (pictured)
  • Chicken sausage and sweet potato scramble
  • Bacon, roasted veggies, kabocha and an egg
  • Plaintains with coconut butter and two eggs
  • Bacon and Egg cups with sweet potatoes on the side
  • Sweet potato smoothie with mashed sweet potatoes, cocoa powder, banana, coconut milk and ice.

Pre-workout meal later workout day (usually 8:30 or 9:30) – Medium breakfast within 30 minutes of waking.

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  • Roasted veggies, chicken apple sausage and egg
  • Bacon and egg cups with veggies on the side
  • Sauteed greens over sausage and topped with an egg.
  • Eggs, meat, greens

Post-workout snack on a later workout day (typically within 20 minutes of my workout) – small carb dense snack

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  • Sweet potatoes, apples and sunbutter
  • Kabocha and chicken
  • Sweet potatoes and chicken
  • Happy Kids tot pouch – Sweet potato, apple, carrot and cinnamon (yes it’s baby food but for adults too!)
  • Kabocha and coconut butter
  • Plantain and coconut butter
  • Butternut Squash and bacon or sausage

You may notice that I don’t include a large amount of fruit or simple carbohydrates.  That’s because of the high fructose content which isn’t the best for fueling or replenishing your body.  Fructose rich fruit will replenish liver glycogen but the muscles is what need to be replenished after a high intensity workout.

Finding what works best for you is important however, making sure to fuel your body is also extremely important.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, I work out too early to eat anything.  I used to be one of those people but unless you are trying to lose a substantial amount of weight, you should eat a little something before heading to the gym.  There are also days I get home from a good workout and putting food in my mouth is the last thing I want to do.  However, I’ve learned that my body needs that food and I feel better when I’ve refueled with some good  complex carbohydrates, protein and a little healthy fats.

 Questions – 

  • What’s a pre-workout snack you like to eat?  
  • What is your favorite way to refuel after a workout? 

Disclaimer – I am not a personal trainer or health professional.  The majority of this information is from my readings of It Starts With Food and The Paleo Coach (affiliate links). 

 

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Comments

  1. Great info, girl! I know a lot of people who’ve been experimenting with a Paleo diet, so I’ll definitely be directing them here. I always found figuring out pre and post workout eats to be incredibly frustrating, but it feels amazing when you get it all down.

    • Giselle Schroer says:

      Thank you Amanda! It can be frustrating figuring out pre and post workouts. I’m finally getting it down and also finally getting my husband on board with a cleaner way to fuel 🙂

  2. I tell you this all the time, but your food pictures always look amazing!! Great info Giselle! 🙂

  3. This is such great information!! I have never felt better both internally and externally since going Paleo. Eating well can really be that simple!

    • Giselle Schroer says:

      That’s so good to hear! I honestly haven’t met anyone who said they felt like crap after going Paleo. However, to each their own. It took me years to finally jump on board but I sure am I did!

  4. I don’t feel like I exercise hard enough to do a “pre” and “post” workout….besides I feel like I eat tons of carbs anyway….probably too much for my activity level but I love them so….don’t care LOL I hate when people say Paleo is low carb. I’m like listen I ate an entire plantain for breakfast.

    • Giselle Schroer says:

      Definitely depends on your exercise level. On days I don’t workout that intense (walking, yoga or light circuit) I don’t eat nearly as much. It kills me when people compare Paleo to low carb or Atkins!

  5. Great post Giselle!

  6. Those are great tips, and such yummy meal ideas! I think paleo is a great option for athletes, if they are careful and plan good, balanced meals as you do!

  7. I totally don’t think you need processed (junk a lot of the time) ‘workout specific’ foods to fuel your fitness. Love that you use real food to fuel your workouts. While I do love my carbs and make sure to include grains and such, creating balanced meals of carbs, fat and protein is what’s important for my refueling. Bookmarking this for more food ideas, thanks! And yes, food first thing in the morning before workouts, always!

  8. I’ve always wondered about this! I could never go paleo… Unless I could eat salmon 3xs a day, but I do see it’s benefits. (I wish I liked meat!!)
    After a workout, I must have protein or else I’m eating everything in sight all day long!