Running and Paleo: How To Fuel For Increasing Mileage {Guest Post!}

I have an exciting guest post today by Michele at Paleo Running Momma! She is super speedy and qualified for Boston the first time she ran a marathon! I asked Michele to help out over here with a guest post while I am away in Maine without internet connection. She has been kind enough to share her secrets about eating paleo as a long distance runner!

Hi all! My name is Michele and I’ve been blogging about my experience with Paleo as a runner for a few months now. One big motivation for starting the blog was to show people that running and eating paleo is not only possible, but for some might actually improve performance as well as nourish the body better for long distance running than eating a diet consisting of a lot of processed carbohydrates. I started eating paleo in November of 2013, while I was dealing with tendonitis and not running at all. Over the course of the next few months, I recovered and trained for the Boston marathon, all while eating paleo and avoiding re-injury. It wasn’t without a few challenges along the road, but through my experiences over the past 8 month, this way of life has become second nature and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with other runners who are interested in incorporating a whole foods or paleo approach to their nutrition.

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First, the basics of paleo: eat meat, vegetables, healthy fats (saturated fats too!) fruit, nuts and seeds, eggs, fish and avoid all grains, dairy (some people include raw or minimally processed full-fat dairy), legumes, and added sugars. Raw honey and pure maple syrup are often included as sweeteners although I don’t find much of a need for them. As a great guide for endurance athletes interested in a paleo lifestyle, The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel is a great reference and goes into great detail about incorporating paleo into training. I will go through what I have found to be most helpful for my own nutrition in the categories of 1. day to day meals (and paleo friendly carbs) 2. long run fueling and 3. recovery as mileage increases.

1. Day to day meals and paleo friendly carbs. Although there are people who believe that runners can fuel on fat alone and don’t need much carbohydrate at all, I am NOT one of those people! I like to be able to run fast when I need or want to and I have found that I feel better eating some carbohydrates with each meal regardless of my training. Some great sources of carbs that are easy to throw into meals are sweet potatoes, plantains, various winter squashes, fruits (bananas are your best friend paleo runner!) beets, white potatoes (more on these in a bit), carrots, and parsnips. Obviously some of these foods are starchier than others and knowing generally what the more dense sources are will help you plan meals. You can play around with different mixes of protein, fat, and carbs and see how your body and training responds to varying amounts. As you eat less unprocessed foods your body should naturally become more adept at burning fat for fuel (great for marathon training!) and you won’t feel like you “need” as many carbs. But I highly recommend that you experiment to see how you feel! Although white rice is not typically paleo for a non- athlete, if you tolerate it well it can be a good carb source to include in a night-before meal as well.

2. Long Run Fueling. This is where things might start to get confusing if you’ve been used to loading up on bagels and pasta prior to a long run. There is no doubt that as you adapt to a paleo diet you will notice that you feel a bit more sluggish in your runs as you body adjusts to different foods. But, there are plenty of ways to fuel for your long runs before and during the run. The day before my long runs while training for Boston, I would make sure I ate more carbs all day. For example, plantains with breakfast, squash and beets in my salad for lunch, fruit and nuts as snacks, and a sweet or white potato with dinner. I’d also eat a banana before bed usually or maybe some sauteed apples with honey. Then the morning of the run (I run really early) I’d eat a banana before I left and bring with me a few fueling options based on how I was feeling: 2 powebar performance energy blends (they are easy on my stomach and kind of like baby food, made of real fruit), a cashew cookie or banana flavored larabar (I’d eat while running) and there was even one time that I brought a peeled banana in a ziplock. Not sure I’d recommend that last one to everyone but it did the job for me at the time! If there is going to be a time that you don’t eat paleo though it is during a long run. Fuel with whatever gels or other sources of fuel work for you and your digestion and make you feel the best – don’t stress about how “paleo” your fuel is!

3. Recovery, sweet recovery. If you’ve been running a while and put some major miles in then you already know how important recovery is! And nutrition is always a big piece of the recovery puzzle paleo or not. If you are marathon training and doing long runs, you will want to plan in advance what you will consume after a long run. Even with good fueling during the run, you still burned up tons of carbs and calories and will need to replenish glycogen stores quickly in order to get the recovery process going. Coconut water is a great beverage to help rebalance your electrolytes and get some carbs in your system. I made it a habit of drinking some after every long run before I was hungry for more substantial food. You can also make a carb dense smoothie with coconut water, bananas and other fruit to get some extra carbs in 30 minutes to an hour post-run. After that, you can focus on going back to your “everyday” protein and fat rich meals that your body will be craving after all of that activity. I spent a lot of my life pretty fat-phobic and avoided butter and oils thinking they were unhealthy. But I was way off base. Getting good fats from animal sources and natural sources such as virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and organic clarified butter will help your body repair itself while logging higher mileage. And oh right, nut butters (except peanut butter, it’s not a nut) and dark chocolate are paleo so why not treat yourself to some of that deliciousness the day after a long run? Your body will actually thank you for this one!

I know I said a lot, and for every runner who tries out paleo there will be a long period of experimenting with different things to figure out what’s comfortable. Hopefully some of my experiences can give you guys some ideas about what can work for you! Thanks for having me Lisa!

Have you ever considered trying out paleo? What questions do you have about a paleo diet for runners?

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10 thoughts on “Running and Paleo: How To Fuel For Increasing Mileage {Guest Post!}

  1. I love Michele!! These are great tips. Honestly I never really gave paleo a thought until I started reading her blog. It seemed like something that would be too difficult for me to do, but my interest in it has definitely been piqued.

    • Me too! I love the concept behind it, and while I could never see myself eating this way 100% of the time I think its a really good way to focus on eating better. And reading Michele’s blog has made it seem much less intimidating!

  2. This is super helpful! I am trying Paleo now. I’m definitely a tinkerer when it comes to “diet” (not in a losing weight sense but just in food selection sense). I like to have a plan and follow it (type A to the extreme!) I hadn’t eaten meat or chicken for two years up until a couple of weeks ago! I hadn’t been feeling all that great and wanted to try something new and decided to give Paleo a shot. I hadn’t given up meat for any animal rights beliefs so it wasn’t hard for me to go back to it. It has been fun to switch it up and I do feel more energized although I am finding it a transition to eat meat at more than one meal during the day. I love eggs so that’s the protein source in the morning, then meat/chicken/fish at lunch, some sort of homemade nut butter at night (and each meal is accompanied by lots of veggies plus sweet potato/fruit carb). At dinner I’m usually in the mood for something completely different from what I ate at lunch so another meal of meat isn’t appealing so far but I’ll figure it out :)

    Very well written thoughts. Thanks, Michele.

    • I hope that paleo can help you to feel better! I know that it has helped so many people. I think it can be challenging at first to figure out what to eat (and a little scary if you’re not used to eating certain foods!) but as I have learned more it seems like such a great way to focus on getting good quality food in your diet. Good luck!

    • I thought the same thing a couple of months ago, but I’ve just tried to limit some of those things a little more. Now I notice that I don’t like sugary foods as much since I have started limiting them, so I figure that’s a good thing!

  3. As usual I love this – how can I not when two of my faves come together?!? I love reading Michele’s take on Paleo – she is at once hardcore and realistic (I think as she said in another post, having three kids with widely varying food tastes beat some flexibility into her :) ) … and I always learn something new.

    And I have been enjoying reading your experiences experimenting with food Lisa! Great stuff
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    • I know, right? Reading about how Michele eats Paleo makes me feel like it is absolutely doable. I never would have even considered trying it out until I started reading her blog!

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