You are here: Home / HPRC Blog

Filed under: Athletic performance

The Paleo Diet: Implications for the athlete

The Paleo Diet is based on what hunters/gatherers ate during the Paleolithic Era. But how might this affect athletes today?

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Paleolithic or Caveman Diet, is based on the notion that by consuming what humans ate during the Paleolithic Era—wild animals, plants, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries—we will be healthier, have lower disease risk, and live longer. Hunters/gatherers during that time had to rely on what was available and had no agriculture. But what are the implications of this type of diet for the athlete, let alone the average individual?

Foods that were grown and introduced after the Agricultural Revolution (roughly 10,000 years ago) are not allowed in the Paleo Diet. That means dairy and dairy products, grains, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are excluded. Proponents of the Paleo Diet believe that we are “genetically programmed” to follow the diet of the hunters/gatherers. A specific book has been written for athletes who want to follow this diet, which accommodate athletes by allowing some carbohydrates: The authors present five stages of eating for the athlete to follow, based on the glycemic index (GI; how quickly food raises blood glucose levels). The stages are: (1) eating before exercise, (2) during exercise, (3) and 30 minutes after exercise, and (4) during post-exercise extended recovery and (5) long-term recovery. Low- to moderate-GI carbohydrates are recommended at least two hours prior to exercise. Sports drinks or high-GI carbohydrates are recommended for exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes. Immediately after exercise a recovery drink with carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 to 5:1 ratio is recommended. Stage IV recovery foods (extended recovery) should be a 4:1 to 5:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, with carbohydrates such as raisins, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams. Stage V recommends focusing on eating from the main Paleo Diet, with carbohydrates coming from fruits and vegetables. So one could argue that the Paleo Diet for Athletes is like most diets for athletes in that it requires carbohydrates. However, the Paleo Diet for Athletes is higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrates than what is recommended for athletes by most health professionals.

What we do know from scientific research is that carbohydrates provide the energy needed for endurance and resistance training, competitive athletic events, mental agility, and healthy living. Complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain pasta, rice and grains, beans, and other legumes contribute to an overall healthy eating plan. By limiting consumption of some of these to only a brief time after exercise, the athlete runs the risk of not having enough fuel for the body, so the body will use protein for energy. Low-fat dairy products also contribute to a healthy lifestyle, providing much-needed calcium and vitamin D as well as probiotics. The Paleo Diet eliminates dairy entirely, even for athletes.

We also know from the scientific literature that during the post-exercise period, within roughly 30-45 minutes of exercise, eating a carbohydrate/protein snack, generally with a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, is essential to stimulate re-synthesis of muscle proteins and replenish glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate). It doesn’t stop there: It is important to maintain glycogen levels in the muscle and liver to sustain all activities, especially over the course of several days. Eating high-carbohydrate snacks between training sessions is important to replenish glycogen stores. Carbohydrate intake recommendations for athletes are 6 to 10 g/kg body weight per day, or roughly 55% of daily calories from carbohydrates.

What’s the bottom line? Grains and dairy products are staples of modern-day society and provide essential nutrients to an overall healthy diet. By eliminating one or more food groups, you run the risk of missing important nutrients. And can we really eat as humans did during the Paleolithic era? Their life expectancy was about one quarter to one half of what ours is, and we benefit from research showing that eating a variety of foods over the course of time provides us with energy and the important vitamins and minerals needed to sustain us in daily activities and exercise.

Do you need to warm up before exercising?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Warming up may help or hinder your performance depending on how you do so.

The Health section of the New York Times published an article that discussed a new study recently published in The Journal of Applied Physiology. Researchers found that some athletes warm up so much that they are too tired to perform at their best during competition. Researchers at Canada’s University of Calgary studied highly trained male track cyclists, asking them to compete, first, after their usual warm-up (20 minutes of riding, increasing to 95% maximum heart rate, then 4×8 minute all-out sprints) and, second, after a 15-minute, lower-intensity warm-up.

Interestingly, they found that the cyclists’ muscles had more power before the their usual warm-up than after it and that they performed better after the less intense warm-up than after their usual warm-up. Researchers concluded that when warming up, less may be more.

Sleep Apnea and athletic performance

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Sleep apnea is a disorder caused by the decrease or pause in the airflow or breathing during sleep. It can lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and cognitive impairment, all side effects that could negatively impact athletic performance.

NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal recently announced that he will retire from professional basketball after 19 seasons and four championship rings. In addition to that announcement, O'Neal announced via a YouTube video that he, like 12 million other Americans, had been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

According to his girlfriend, the seven-feet-tall, 300-plus-pounds center snored excessively during the night, and she noticed that his chest would often cease movement entirely. After participating in a Harvard University–sponsored sleep study, he was diagnosed with a mild case of sleep apnea and was advised to begin wearing a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask, a respiratory ventilation therapy that assists the wearer’s breathing while asleep. O'Neal's story has a happy ending—because of the recent diagnosis and subsequent treatment, O’Neal reports that he feels more energetic and that his overall quality of life has improved. He is also happy and comfortable with the treatment. Other professional athletes suffering from sleep apnea have not been so fortunate. In 2006, Reggie White, defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers—one of the greatest players in football history—reportedly died from causes related to sleep apnea.

What exactly is sleep apnea? And how does it affect athletic performance? People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, there are three types of apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Of the three types, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. Weight can contribute to sleep apnea. In 2009, a study by Sweden's Karolinska Institute showed that overweight and obese men who lost weight during a calorie-restricted diet over nine weeks had major improvements in their sleep apnea symptoms.

Other risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include certain physical attributes, such as having a thick neck (which describes many athlete body types), deviated septum, receding chin, and enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Allergies or other medical conditions that cause nasal congestion and blockage can also contribute to sleep apnea.

Signs of sleep apnea include loud and chronic snoring, choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep, long pauses in breathing, and daytime sleepiness regardless of how much time you spend sleeping. Other common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat, morning headaches, restless or fitful sleep, insomnia or nighttime awakenings, going to the bathroom frequently during the night, waking up feeling out of breath, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, moodiness, irritability, or depression.

Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Moreover, left untreated, it may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.

In terms of athletic/sports performance, sleep apnea is a major concern because sleep apnea causes a disruption to healthy sleep patterns, which in turn can affect physical performance. According to a 2007 Stanford University study of sleep and athletic performance, athletes who extend the amount of sleep they get and reduce their sleep debt are more likely to improve their performance. Conversely, if an athlete does not get a good night’s sleep, then the next day he/she is tired, sleepy, or irritable. In such cases, physical performance also is impaired, since there is limited energy reserve due to the lack of adequate or good-quality sleep.  Sleep apnea not only has an impact on athletes—it affects the military, as well.

So what can you do if you suspect that you or your sleep partner has sleep apnea? The only way to be sure is to undergo a sleep test, which is done in a sleep lab where patients sleep in a special bedroom with electrodes and other sensors attached to various parts of the body. There, you will be monitored throughout the night to keep track of whether and how often you stop breathing, how low your O2 sat (oxygen saturation) goes, and what your brainwaves are doing while you're sleeping.

For additional resources on sleep and sleep apnea, please visit the following:

American Sleep Apnea Association

National Sleep Foundation

How Much Sleep does a Warfighter Need?

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research

Men and women sweat differently

HPRC Fitness Arena:
The New York Times Well blog features an article on research that studies the differences of men and women sweat.

Sweating WomanPhoto: Shutterstock.com

The New York Times Well blog features an article on research that studies the differences of men and women sweat.

According to the article, fit women seem to sweat differently than unfit people of either sex, and quite differently than fit men, a fact that has implications for sports performance.

Click on the link below to access the article.

Do Women Sweat Differently Than Men?

 

Journal entry icon

Who wants to wear "toe shoes"?

HPRC Fitness Arena:
Vibram’s line of FiveFingers shoes, or VFFs (also known as toe shoes), has become the most controversial item in military running.

Vibram’s line of FiveFingers shoes, or VFFs (also known as toe shoes), has become the most controversial item in military running.  Army officials have banned them from the PT test over worries they might give some soldiers an unfair advantage. The Navy has also nixed them while Air Force and Marine Corps leaders have given the OK for them to be used. A recent article in Army Times.com take a closer look at the toe shoe controversy and provides current policy stands for the service branches.

Read the full article here.

Journal entry icon

Army revises training program to deal with overweight and unfit recruits

HPRC Fitness Arena:
The New York Times presents a look at the Army’s new physical-training program to deal with recruits who reach basic training having less strength and endurance than those privates in the past.

The New York Times August 31 edition presents a look at the Army’s new physical-training program to deal with  recruits who reach basic training having less strength and endurance than those in the past.  According to a Lt. Gen. who oversees basic training for the Army, “What we were finding was that the soldiers we’re getting in today’s Army are not in as good shape as they used to be”.  The cause of this decline, according to the article is a "legacy of junk food and video games, compounded by a reduction in gym classes in many high schools".

The article also cites the percentage of male recruits who failed the most basic fitness test at one training center rose to more than one in five in 2006, up from just 4 percent in 2000. Additionally, the article notes that the percentages were higher for women.

The new fitness regime tries to solve the problems of unfit soldiers by incorporating more stretching, more exercises for the abdomen and lower back, instead of the traditional sit ups, and more agility and balance training.

The full article is here: Making Soldiers Fit to Fight, Without the Situps

RSS Feed