There’s a longstanding myth among endurance athletes that loading up on carbs and sugary energy gels is the only way to sustain energy through a long distance event when in fact endurance training on a paleo diet is very attainable and health promoting.
Sugar burners versus fat burners
The body is meant to access fat reserves for energy. In today’s world with a McDonald’s and a Starbucks on every corner, people have come to rely on quick sources of energy – essentially wrecking this natural process and retraining the body to demand quick fuel to get through the day.
Based on diet, there are two types of metabolisms. There are sugar burners – those that burn sugar for fuel and rely upon simple carbs such as white bread, cereal, granola bars or fruit juice to perk up their energy levels throughout the day. The majority of people fall into this group, and they, unfortunately, suffer from an energy rollercoaster nearly every day, dealing with the constant ups and downs of insulin levels.
Fat burners instead rely upon protein-rich foods and healthy fats to sustain consistent energy levels throughout the day. Their bodies are able to access stored fat reserves for energy, rather than rely on quick burning fuel sources like simple carbohydrates.
Essentially their body is trained to access these stored fat reserves, as people hundreds of years ago had to rely on when food was not necessarily in ample supply.
For endurance training purposes, athletes and those training for long distance events have an advantage when they can rely primarily on their stored fat and glucose reserves for energy. This ensures that when carbs and simple sugars are in short supply, they will burn fat for fuel instead – leading to a healthier BMI, healthy weight loss and sustained, consistent levels of long-term energy.
The carb loading myth
Most athletes are trained to believe that the weeks and days leading up to an important event, one must fuel the body with as much white pasta as he or she can stomach. The reality is that for most people, this will mess with their metabolism. The carb loading myth should not be blindly accepted as a guiding principle that’s right for everyone. With the right approach to nutrition, endurance training on a paleo diet is achievable and will leave you feeling more satiated than ever before.
Fueling with a diet that is based primarily on sustainable protein sources, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, squash, and plantains, will lead to reduced inflammation and sustained energy levels to fuel endurance events.
What endurance training on a paleo diet looks like
Carbs are essential to a healthy, balanced diet, and vital for an endurance athlete’s performance. But rather than rely solely on quick burning sources such as white pasta, consider that there is an alternate perspective that will provide long lasting health benefits.
Endurance athlete and primal lifestyle expert Mark Sisson suggests the approach of “training low, racing high” when it comes to carb intake for a marathon. According to Sisson, “by training low on glycogen, your body grows accustomed to running on fat and conserving muscle glycogen. By training low and then racing high – with topped-off glycogen stores in your muscles – you experience a big boost in performance on race day.”
Rather than rely on Gatorade and energy chews for longer training days, opt for organic, natural options instead. New products on the market include energy gels made from tapioca starch and organic cane sugar, or a packet of pure maple syrup that packs in 29 grams of carbs to fuel your performance.
Remember to refuel properly after a long training event as well. After a long run or bike ride, it’s important to refuel properly as well. Include a serving of protein (such as a hard boiled egg, nut butter or lean chicken) with a carb (fruit, vegetables, and potatoes are all easy options / grab & go) for a balance of protein and carbs that will help your muscles recover properly.