Adopting the Paleo diet - Women's Running magazine

Adopting the Paleo diet

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  October 1, 2015

Texture of stone background

If you initially took up running for weight loss, then you may have also been tempted to try a diet or eating plan to help shed unwanted pounds. And you may have been enticed by the Paleo Diet. It’s reported to be a favourite of many high-profile celebrities, including Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel, Megan Fox and Matthew McConaughey. Although mainly promoted to help people become healthy and live longer, many people who follow the diet also lose weight and reduce body fat.

What is the diet?

The Paleo Diet (also known as the ‘Caveman Diet’) is named after the Paleolithic Period, which ended approximately 10,000 years ago. The premise of the diet is that we should eat as our caveman ancestors would have eaten, and avoid processed foods that wouldn’t have existed thousands of years ago. The diet entails eating more protein, fewer carbs, more fibre and moderate to high consumption of healthy fats.

“The diet consists of foods and nutrients we would have eaten prior to the agricultural revolution, dating back thousands of years when we began to settle, growing and cultivating crops and animals,” explains personal trainer Ben Walsh, who has a BSc (Hons) in Foods Science. “This means that grains, cereals, pulses and dairy products are eliminated from the diet, along with processed foods, including preservatives, dyes, sugars and salts. “In essence, the idea of eating clean and well is something that should be promoted,” Ben adds. “Although as with any diet, we can lose the health benefits if we do not eat a balanced diet.”

What can you eat?

Foods you can eat include meat like beef, lamb, chicken  and turkey, and fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel,shrimp and shellfish. You can also eat free-range eggs, while vegetable choices include broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots and tomatoes. Healthy fats are fine, such as coconut oil, olive oil and avocado, along with some nuts and seeds. You can eat fruit including apples,bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries and blueberries.

Racks of lamb ready for cooking

What can’t you eat?

As the diet eliminates processed foods, salty foods and sugars, it means cutting out grains such as porridge, breads, pastas and wheat, most dairy, vegetable oils, trans fats (found in margarines and processed foods) and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, found in diet drinks. Simply cutting out sugar can help with weight loss. While it’s true that your body burns sugar for energy, excessive sugar consumption means your liver will reach a limit in terms of how much it can store. When the liver is full, the excess is converted into fatty acids. These fats are returned to your bloodstream and stored as fat. So an eating plan that promotes eliminating sugar can be effective for losing pounds.

Is the diet suitable for runners?

Yes it is, though it may take you a while to adapt to a new way of eating. Caroline Watson, Paleo Diet expert from Pure Healthy Way ( says: “Unfortunately from birth we are fed refined carbs at regular intervals throughout the day. From baby rice and breakfast cereals to sandwiches and pasta dishes – our bodies have been trained to use ingested carbs for energy.”

What about carbohdrates?

If you’re running very long distances like marathons or ultras then you may be concerned about trying the Paleo Diet, as you are cutting out carbohydrates, like pasta, that many runners typically use for energy. “Although it eliminates carbohydrates from grains and legumes it does allow you to eat fruit and unlimited vegetables, which will give you some good, slow releasing carbs,” says Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at the Nutricentre ( “This makes it a more balanced and sustainable diet than others that exclude grains such as the old style Atkins Diet.”

Ben Walsh says: “It’s important to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet with sufficient carbohydrates, especially if you’re training very hard.”

So what is a sufficient carbohydrate intake? By way of example, if you are running five to six times per week for an hour each time, nutritionist Christine Bailey advises consuming around 6g per kg of body weight of carbohydrates. This means if you weigh 9 stones (just over 57kg), you would need to consume around 340g of carbs per day (57 x 6). Monitor your energy levels and see how you feel. As you start building up some serious mileage, Christine recommends increasing carb intake to 7-8g per kg of bodyweight.

“Many serious athletes get great results while following the diet,’ says Caroline Watson. She also points out that, although the Paleo Diet is lower in carbohydrates than some eating plans, it isn’t a low-carb diet as such. “Paleo is often considered a low-carb diet but it is more about getting your carbs from vegetables and fruits so that your blood sugar becomes more balanced,” she says.


Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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