Paleo, prawns and potato for athletes

prawn tomato dish

Here is a photo of last night's prawn and tomato dish, a recipe I am trialling for my new book, and guess what, it is Paleo!  Well would be if I hadn't melted the feta cheese through it, or served it on top of rice!!  But it could be a tasty Paelo dish. If only it were a child-friendly dish in my house too, (my boys are two of the fussiest eaters I know, but I will leave that discussion for another day).  Or budget-friendly, I can't imagine it would become a weekly regular in most houselholds, but it was delicious!  Would it be a meal I would recommend for an athlete?  Yes and no.

Consdering I am a sports dietitian, I thought I should follow up on my previous post about caveman style eating and consider whether Paleo is suitable for acitve people.  My initial response would be 'no', but there is probably more to it.  There are a number of high profile athletes who follow a Paleo style of eating and seem to do ok.  Gary Ablett Jnr for example.  I have heard and read in the media that he follows a Paleo style of eating, although I don't know what exactly that entails for him.  I would love to know a little bit more about what he eats on training days and pre-game to give him the energy to run all day.   Sweet potato three different ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner?  It seems that he must be doing something right with his preparation, I am hearing Andrew Demetriou in my head right now at the Brownlow medal count, 'G. Ablett.....3 votes', 'G. Ablett.....2 votes', 'G. Ablett.....3 votes', etc.

The main concern about Paleo for active people is meeting carbohydrate fuel needs.  Although I am still a little confused about 'true' Paleo and exactly which vegetables and fruits are ok, as sources vary.  Carbohydrate requirements depend on the type of training and competition week-to-week, as well as individual body size and physiology.  You always hear about carbohydrate being important for athletes, which it is, but the amount required can vary significantly between athletes and for individual athletes at various stages of the week and season. 

In practice, I see a lot of athletes who are eating more carbohydrate than they need, as are much of the general population.  Perhaps not intentionally, but sometimes people can underestimate the amount of carbohydrate in foods and fluids or forget to consider fluids entirely. 

There are also athletes who do not eat enough carbohydrate for their specific needs and often there are obvious symptoms such as fatigue, but sometimes there are not and although the athlete may feel they are performing ok, they could be performing a lot better with well timed carbohydrate intake.  Athletes are equally exposed to the media promotion of low-carb diets, but for many active people low-carb is not appropriate. Low-carbohydrate may be a useful strategy at particular times of the year in conjunction with specific body composition goals, but the definition ad degree of 'low-carbohydrate' is different for everyone.  Cut down carbohydrate too much when you are training hard and you are likely to experience fatigue, impaired recovery and increased risk of muscle soreness, accident and injury.  You may also end up losing muscle if kilojoules are particularly low, which will effect performance and potentially metabolism, which can lead to faster weight gain once carbohydrate intake increases.

So, is Paleo suitable for athletes??  I would still say 'no' to a super rigid Paleo style plan.  It's not just all about the carbohydrate but the potential for inadequate intake of other nutrients, for example calcium which is an important mineral for athletes. In particular female endurance-type athletes who are lean, have low energy intakes and often menstrual dysfunction, as their bone density can be compromised and may have increased risk of stress fractures.

There are, however, particular athletes who definitely benefit from a reduced carbohydrate intake, specific to their individual needs and performance goals.  As per my previous post, I love many of the concepts associated with Paleo, but others I am not so excited about .  Athletes should be extra cautious of any type of 'popular' generic dietary plan or rules and would be better off addressing their own individual health and performance (and other) needs and planning and choosing foods accordingly.  Each athlete will be different.

Would I recommend the prawn dish to athletes?  Yes!  But probably not the Paleo version, it tastesmuch better with feta!  If an athlete had particular goals that required a reduction in carbohydrate then I may recommend serving it with salad, or a very small serve of rice.  For an athlete with a heavy training session the next morning I would still suggest some salad but with a larger serve of rice.

G. Ablett, if you are reading this, I would love to hear exactly how you do Paleo seemingly so well? I would love to learn more.....



What I love about eating like a cavemen


Perhaps like you, I have been quite fascinated at the to-and-fro in the media between various individuals about the merits, or otherwise, of following a Paleo style of eating.  I love a bit of healthy debate, and I think everyone has a right to their opinion, but the thing that disappoints me most is the tone of recent discussions and the use of blatant or insinuated negativity directed towards individuals and their opinions.  Present your arguments, based on science and fact, but please don't ridicule others to promote your own opinions.  Credibility is built on honesty, transparency and results, not by personal attacks to try and make your opinions appear superior.  At least the fiery debate has put nutrition into the spotlight and inspired many of us to think about, and discuss, how, what and why we eat.

So what is 'Paleo' anyway?  I think there is plenty of confusion about Paleo, low-carb, gluten-free, clean eating, etc.  The Paleo approach promotes gluten-free, but is not completely carbohydrate free, and is based on the eating patterns of our caveman ancestors from Paleolithic times.

The brief in a nutshell:

Include - fresh meat, poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, herbs, occasional fruit

Avoid - everything else, including dairy, grains (especially wheat apparently), legumes and all processed foods.

Things I love about Paleo:

- food in as close to natural state as possible

- high quality protein from meats, poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds

- plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables 

- use of herbs and spices

- not much sugar

- no additives

- sustainability

Things I don't love about Paleo:

- avoiding dairy and grains completely, even minimally processed varieties

- not  much fruit 

- unlimited type and amount of fat

- potential expense

- preparation time

- not family friendly, inappropriate for children with regard to nutrient inadequacy and restrictive nature 

I seem to have  more positives on my list than negatives BUT the negatives are deal-breakers.  A positive relationship with food involves flexibility with choices, and the option to incorporate any type of food (obviously some more regularly than others).  It also is important to enjoy food without guilt, and I think this could be challenging with any style of eating that prescribes long-term rules and restrictions.  

How about 'partial-Paleo' or even 'lacto-graino-Paleo' as an alternative to full-on Paleo?  Just like there are various options for vegetarians (eg. lacto-ovo-vegetarian follow a vegetarian style of eating, and don't eat meat but include dairy and eggs), there could be different options for Paleo, which allow for our modern lifestyles, preferences, cooking options and nutrition needs?  Lacto-graino-Paleo could include some nutritious options within the dairy, grain and legume families.  Perhaps some A2 milk, some natural/Greek style yoghurt, a delicious tasty cheese, and some nutrient-packed oats or rye products.  Or even sometimes, shockingly, enjoying delicious fresh-baked white bread or a crunchy and gooey chocolate brownie! 

I am certainly not endorsing a Paleo style of eating, or any other specific style of eating,  across the board, because everyone is different and different things work for different people.  I do believe that it is everyone's individual choice as to what, how and why you eat and how you live your life in general.  Food serves a purpose in keeping your body energised and healthy, but is also a big part of our lives to be shared, appreciated and enjoyed.  Many of our most wonderful food memories involve foods that would not be considered to be 'healthy'.  I can still smell the home-made sausage rolls, an infrequent but much loved and anticipated lunch order from the local general store next to my old primary school.  Or Mum giving my brothers and I a few coins (no doubt silver ones, that we often pooled together for maximum value) to spend at the supermarket on snacks to take into the movies.  We weren't in the fresh produce section that is for sure.  Who would want to deny children these experiences and memories?  Being a dietitian I am obviously interested in health and eating well, but I also love to enjoy special food occasions.

If you like the idea of Paleo, or any other particular style of eating, make sure it is right for YOU.  Think about how it fits your lifestyle, the demands, pressures and costs involved, whether there is good nutrient balance for your particular health needs, potential for nutrient inadequacies and if it really makes you feel may have to make some modifications to come up with something that suits your unique needs.  Above all, work towards eating choices that you can live with long-term and that allow you to eat well, widely and without ongoing deprivation or guilt.