Athletes have long followed high-carb diets, but low-carb diets such as the ketogenic and Paleo diets are increasingly being adopted by superstar athletes and endurance competitors.
NBA superstar LeBron James made headlines after showing off his shocking 25-pound weight loss on the low-carb Paleo diet. While LeBron doesn’t have a weight problem, sources said he’s trying to lose weight to take the pressure off his aging knees.
LeBron isn’t the only NBA superstar who has adopted a low-carb diet. His ex-Miami Heat teammate, Ray Allen, 39, adopted a sugar-free low carb Paleo diet in 2013, and promptly lost 10 pounds.
While losing weight was not Allen’s goal, he said the Paleo diet enhanced his post-workout recovery. Ray’s teammate, Dwayne Wade, also recently adopted the Paleo diet and said he feels better.
These results confirm what former Ironman triathlete Mark Sisson experienced. Sisson said he improved his athletic performance, his body composition, and his energy levels after switching to a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) Paleo diet.
“I fell into the paradigm of eating complex carbs for fuel,” Sisson told Palm Springs Life. “I got fit, but my health declined. I was one of the top runners in the country but had many health ailments.”
Mark said by reducing carb intake and increasing the amount of healthy fats, your body learns to burn fat (instead of glucose) for fuel.
“Over time, you become good at burning off your own body fat for energy rather than depending on carbohydrates throughout the day,” he said. “It takes about 21 days for your body to switch to this mode of fat-burning, and that’s when you’ll really start to see results.”
Ironman triathlete Nell Stephenson agrees. Stephenson switched to the high-fat, low-carb Paleo diet after contracting a parasite during an Ironman triathlon in 2004.
After finding no relief with prescription drugs, Nell adopted the Paleo diet, which emphasizes high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, and excludes gluten, sugar, dairy, legumes, starches, alcohol and processed foods.
“I felt better in three days,” said Stephenson, author of Paleoista: Gain Energy, Get Lean, and Feel Fabulous. “My body is functioning optimally.”
Pro cyclist Dave Zabriskie, and ultra-marathoner Timothy Olson also abandoned their high-carb, low-fat eating plans in favor of the high-fat, lower-carb Paleo diet, and experienced performance gains.
Similarly, former Ironman triathlete Ben Greenfield trained for the 2013 Ironman Triathlon World Championships by following the LCHF ketogenic diet, and completed the epic endurance race in an impressive 9:59:26.
After switching to a ketogenic diet, Ben experienced improved stamina, stable blood sugar, better sleep, and less brain fog. Greenfield, author of Beyond Training, no longer follows the ketogenic diet, but advocates consuming plenty of healthy fats.
Joe Friel, a U.S. Olympic triathlon coach, said the Paleo diet (which is lower carb and higher fat than the traditional diets of endurance athletes) works for endurance athletes because it helps with recovery.
“[Paleo offers] better long-term recovery due to greater micronutrient content [than a standard high-starch, high-sugar diet], allowing the athlete to train with a greater stress load,” said Friel, author of the Triathlete’s Training Bible.
Joe said the Paleo menu provides more antioxidants and vitamins than the typical high-carb diet favored by most endurance athletes and boosts fat oxidation and weight loss — a major advantage for endurance athletes, because the less excess weight you carry, the faster you’ll be.