While carb-loading is deeply ingrained in endurance sports, a growing number of long-distance runners, cyclists and triathletes have experienced performance gains with the low-carb Paleo and ketogenic diets.
The Paleo diet, which emphasizes high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, and excludes gluten, sugar, dairy, legumes, starches, alcohol and processed foods, is already popular among professional athletes.
The low-carb Paleo diet has been adopted by Miami Heat guard Ray Allen and superstar LeBron James, Examiner reported.
Similarly, pro cyclist Dave Zabriskie and ultra-marathoner Timothy Olson abandoned their high-carb, low-fat eating plans in favor of the high-fat, lower-carb Paleo diet, and experienced meaningful performance gains.
Olson said his post-workout recovery improved after going Paleo. Timothy set a new course record at the Western States 100-mile endurance run in 2012, a few months after adopting the Paleo diet.
Low-Carb Diets Stem Inflammation and Boost Fat Oxidation
Nutrition experts say the Paleo diet’s emphasis on healthy fats helps the body shift from burning carbs for fuel to burning fat.
Research indicates the Paleo diet accelerates weight loss, reduces blood pressure, and prevents cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
A two-year study recently conducted by scientists at Cambridge University and Umeå University in Sweden showed the Paleo diet is twice as effective for producing weight loss and melting body fat as low-fat diets.
“Clinical trials have shown the Paleo diet is the optimum diet that can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, help with weight loss, reduce acne, promote optimum health and athletic performance,” said Loren Cordain, author of The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook.
Joe Friel, a U.S. Olympic triathlon coach, said the Paleo diet works for triathletes 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 Triathletes Training Bible and Fast After 50.
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.
Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet Used By Ironman Triathletes
Another interesting trend is the growing use of the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet among triathletes.
Fitness expert Ben Greenfield trained for the 2013 Ironman Triathlon World Championships by following the ketogenic diet and completed the epic endurance race in an impressive 9:59:26.
Ben, author of the bestseller Beyond Training, detailed his ketogenic diet experiment on his blog. Greenfield’s breakfast the morning of the Ironman was a half-stick of butter, two shots of MCT oil, and a cup of coffee — a stark contrast to the heaping plates of pasta most endurance athletes inhale before a race.
Similarly, Dr. Jay Lehr, a 79-year-old triathlete, has followed a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic-style diet his entire life and credits it for his excellent health.
Jay has thrived on a diet of red meat, saturated fat, dairy, eggs, butter, and lard and has never felt better, as Celebrity Health & Fitness previously reported.
“I’ve never been inside a regular doctor’s office,” said Lehr. “I have lived my entire life on high fat — dairy, eggs, butter and lard.”
Jay recently completed his 13th Ironman Triathlon.