The caveman diet
No one can better attest to the power of proper fuel than an endurance athlete. Strenuous activity requires the right diet for both performance and recovery. While an inactive person trying to shed a few pounds can focus on calorie deprivation, someone who demands work from their body knows that the RIGHT food is the only way to keep their engine firing. Of course, if you are already an athlete, you may think that training is key. To a degree. But if you want to reap greater rewards from your training, diet is the determinant of success.
Margaret Webb, a fifty year old marathoner is living proof of how a few pertinent dietary changes can lead to dramatic increases in both physical performance and body composition. We met a few months ago to discuss how she could become a faster, stronger runner – IF this was possible.
“You better believe it!” was my response.
I advised her to follow a lower carbohydrate diet, with a primary focus on maintaining balanced blood sugar levels ALL day, especially before and during her workouts. This is the same way of eating I recommend for someone who is trying to lose weight, lower cholesterol levels, increase energy, or age gracefully. Store less, burn more. It’s a simple equation and it works.
It works if you DO IT, that is. And Margaret has done it, and continues to do it. Since she started eating this way, ten pounds have fallen off her frame, her speed on both long and short runs has improved, and her energy and recovery have sky-rocketted. If an already trained athlete like her can experience positive change, then the diet works. The proof is in the pudding.
Endurance athletes are reluctant to lower their carbohydrate consumption, yet this is EXACTLY what most of them need to get fitter and faster. One of the first things I advised Margaret to do was cut out her grains – the high density, inflammatory, acidic sugars that make up the bulk of most people’s meals. Was she reluctant at first? You better believe it. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone loves a bowl of pasta or a hunk of baguette, and running marathons seems like the ideal excuse to eat more of them. Two weeks and she was convinced.
Eating for fuel means that vegetables and fruit provide her primary carbohydrates. By avoiding high insulin meals she ensures that her calories are never unnecessarily stored as fat. This takes care of weight and energy levels, while the addition of more glucose concentrated carbs prior to and during long runs, provides the sugar she needs when her body needs it most. There is NO benefit to shovelling in the sugar in high quantities any other time of day. What people don’t often realize is that during endurance activity, fat is a longer lasting form of fuel than carbohydrates. Let your body use its stores of fat, whenever possible.
Don’t confuse body fat for dietary fat. You need healthy fats in your diet, at every meal and snack – in small amounts. Unsaturated fats are found in avocados, olive oil, fish, nuts, and seeds. Margaret adds one of these to every meal and snack to stabilize her blood sugar, preventing over-eating and constant craving. Who would believe that eating more fat could help you lose fat? Margaret does now. Her new pre-long run meal is a couple dates filled with almond butter. That’s more fat than sugar. She says her long runs are easier than ever.
And then there’s protein. Proper recovery requires amino acids, as does muscle building. These processes boost her metabolism and better her performance. Like for many athletes, before she tweaked her eating, protein was not a primary consideration for her. Now it is. Fish, eggs, and lean meat all break down into the building blocks needed to keep her body repaired and ready. Along with the healthy fats, protein also keeps her energy levels stable and alleviates the desire for dense carbs.
Whether you are training to run marathons or trying to lose weight, the right way of eating remains the same. And the response of a well-trained body is the true test of what works.
Your body is a machine. Fuel it right. Keep it lean.