Paleo For Endurance Athletes: Everything You Need To Know [Experiment]

This week’s nutrition article is the start of a long hard look at the viability of Paleo for endurance athletes. I want to know…

Paleo For Endurance Athletes

This week’s nutrition article is the start of a long hard look at the viability of Paleo for endurance athletes. I want to know categorically, if paleo can work for marathon runners, and whether or not the body can put in big mileage while eating paleo.

Ever wonder if paleo for endurance athletes is a good idea?

Well I have. So I’m conducting a little self experiment and I’m letting you in on it…

I want to know if paleo works for marathon runners and there’s no better way to test that than on myself. I’m the guinea pig for the next 4 months (at least) and I’ll be eating only paleo food while training for my next marathon.

I’ve been on the paleo diet before although I did scale my running back at that time so I can’t be certain if paleo works 100% for marathon runners. So no better way than to jump in with 2 feet and try it on myself.

I realise there will be difficulties while my body adjusts, but I believe it can be done.

There are plenty of articles on and on the subject of paleo for endurance athletes, but how reliable is the information they publish on it’s viability?

I doubt many of them actually test the theory, so that being the case it’s not very reliable I’d suggest.

Respected running coach Hal Higdon seems to be pretty clear what camp he’s in. In this article on paleo eating Hal is pretty ridiculing of the paleo eating trend.

Higdon is a respected coach and former marathon athlete, but my initial take on that article is that he seems a little too old school and too cock sure of his opinion to afford balance on the matter for me.

Anyone who comes out with scathing view about a particular system of training or eating without trying it first comes in very low on the “worth-listening-to” scale for me.

Download The Ultimate Paleo Food List For Endurance Athletes Guide — I’ve put together a guide to the paleo diet that I’m currently using. Download the guide and start making better food choices.

A Bit Of Personal Background

I’ve run about 80 marathons to date with a couple ultras, 24 hour and multi-day events thrown in. My greatest personal achievement has been completing 42 marathons in 42 consecutive days in 2015 for charity. Times ranged from 3:50:00 to 4:30:00 and averaged over the campaign at 4:10-ish. When that ended I put the feet up and it's about 11 months since I’ve run a marathon. As such I’ve put on about 20 pounds additional padding .

I’ve been sitting on my arse long enough so that’s two issues that need to be addressed. I also want to improve my time for the marathon. Therefore my goal for my next marathon is two fold;

#1 — Achieve a sub 3 hour marathon

#2 — Do it eating Paleo and reduce bodyfat to 10%

I’ve set a January 2017 MCI event as the date to make the sub 3 hour attempt. It’s a flat course so I can give myself the best chance. I expect my body to adapt and make good the fuel I give it. Given that all processed foods will be off the menu, I expect my body to perform well.

There’s no wheat, no dairy, no packaged or canned foods in the paleo for endurance athletes plan. And there’s no doubt it will be an adjustment. Keep your eye on the blog to see how it goes.

A note on Paleo

Paleo eating might not suit everyone and so you should test it for yourself, preferably leaving plenty of time between the date you start and your next race date. When you shift your dietary habits you’ll likely experience an inner revolt so be prepared for that.

What Is The Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is essentially an ancient system of eating that goes back to the paleolithic period where our ancestors were hunter gatherers rather than farmers. In the evolution of human beings, farming has been around for a very short period.

Industrialised farming, which in my not so humble opinion has essentially bastardised food production in the pursuit of volume and profit, is only around maybe 100 years or so. Industrialised food production has brought us mass produced cheap foods that really have no place on our dinner tables.

Our hunter gatherer ancestors ate fruit, vegetables, nuts, berries, meat, fish and poultry and did so for thousands of years. As such are far better suited to this paleolithic diet than the modern wheat based diet.

It makes perfect sense to me to omit all fake, mass produced wheat based foods from my diet. How could heavily processed, chemical loaded food be any benefit to me? Especially given that it has been designed to last on a supermarket shelf, rather than offer me high nutritional value.

It’s a no brainer and to be honest I’m willing this experiment to work. Maybe that will be an influencing factor, I guess we’ll find out.

What Foods Are On The Paleo Menu?

I’m no expert when it comes to paleo for endurance athletes so make sure you do your own research. However here’s what I’ve managed to gather from my own research. Paleo eating suggests the following foods are on the menu.

Paleo Meats

Almost all meats are good for paleo eating unless they have been heavily processed. Many meats commonly available pre-packed in the supermarket are not of high quality. They often have gas added to the packet to keep the meat looking fresh.

This gas is toxic and hidden from you because it’s in their “process” so technically not an ingredient. Look for vacuum packed organic meat or buy from a small reliable local source or farm outlet.

  • Poultry

  • Turkey

  • Chicken

  • Pork

  • Steak

  • Beef

  • Lamb

  • Venison

  • Buffalo

  • Rabbit

  • Goat

  • Bacon

  • Eggs (duck, chicken or goose)

Download the full list here

Paleo Vegetables

Pretty much any vegetable you can think of is ok for Paleo eating. The only caveat to that is starchy veg such as white potatoes, however I really don’t have a problem with them. As far I see it, our ancestors would have eaten a variety of root vegetables including potato. Sweet potato is a good paleo carb source that I like to oven cook.

Have a medium sized portion a couple times per week. If you’re training hard then you could sneak another serving or two in per week. If you’re trying to lose body fat then best to leave them out for the first month until your body fat % drops to healthy levels.

  • Asparagus

  • Avocado

  • Artichoke hearts

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Carrots

  • Parsnip

  • Swedes

  • Turnip

  • Spinach

  • Leeks

  • Fennel

  • Bok Choi

  • Cress

  • Chard

  • Chili Peppers

  • Kale

  • Radish

  • Celery

  • Broccoli

  • Zucchini

  • Courgette

  • Cucumber

  • Cabbage

  • Bell Peppers

  • Sweet Peppers

  • Cauliflower

  • Eggplant

  • Onions

  • Garlic

  • Butternut Squash*

  • Acorn Squash*

  • Yam*

  • Sweet Potato*

  • Beets*

  • Lettuce

Download the full list here

Paleo Oils/Fats

Fats have been demonised over the past 50 years or so and that mainly came about by virtue of some bright spark coming up with the now infamous food triangle. Fats from vegetables such as avocado are essential in maintaining a healthy body.

Animal fats however are not as good, so keep those at a minimum. Use coconut oil for cooking and avoid processed vegetable oils. They have been destroyed in the manufacturing process and are actually more harmful to your health despite what clever marketing might suggest.

  • Coconut oil

  • Olive oil

  • Macadamia Oil

  • Avocado Oil

  • Grass fed Butter (in small amounts)

  • Other cold pressed veg oils

Paleo Nuts

Most nuts are really good for you. Some health advice suggests you should activate your nuts by heating gently first then allowing to cool down. Others suggest steeping your nuts in water overnight then rinsing the next day to remove any toxins.

I don’t know about that but what I will say is having a packet of raw nuts on board during the day helps keeps cravings at bay. Avoid processed salted or sweetened nuts.

  • Almonds

  • Cashews

  • Hazelnuts

  • Pecans

  • Pine Nuts

  • Pumpkin Seeds

  • Sunflower Seeds

  • Macadamia Nut

  • Walnuts

Download the full list here

Paleo Dried Fruits

When you are choosing your dried fruit make sure there’s no other ingredient on the packet other than the fruit. Some manufacturers add corn syrup and preservatives to dried fruit to make it last longer on the shelf.

Paleo people didn’t have access to fruit all year round and they certainly didn’t have the variety we do today, so take it easy on the fruit. You don’t want to be overloading on sweet fruit and spiking your blood sugar levels, unless you’re in competition then maybe you should consider a higher fruit intake.

  • Apple

  • Avocado

  • Blackberries

  • Papaya

  • Peaches

  • Plums

  • Mango

  • Lychee

  • Blueberries

  • Grapes

  • Lemon

  • Strawberries

  • Watermelon

  • Pineapple Guava

  • Lime

  • Raspberries

  • Cantaloupe

  • Tangerine

  • Figs

  • Oranges

  • Bananas*

Download the full list here

A Note For Athletes

As your body adjusts to the new lower sugar diet, you will find after a period of adjustment that your blood sugar set point has lowered. This means whenever you do consume sugary foods such as oranges, apples and ripe bananas, they will have a greater effect on performance output.

What Foods Are Off The Paleo Menu?

The following is a list of foods that I’m excluding from my Paleo For endurance athletes eating plan. You will likely find it difficult to adjust to the new plan but I assure you after you do, your body will thank you. There’s no half measures here, you simply have to go cold turkey.

I pretty much follow the Whole30 plan and by that program I understand the following foods are a runner (pardon the pun!)


All dairy is pretty much off the menu except where you add a drop of full fat milk to your coffee or tea. Although I have to admit, I will be using butter in my cooking.

  • Butter

  • Cheese

  • Cottage Cheese

  • Non fat dairy creamer

  • Low fat milk

  • Whole milk (sometimes)

  • Dairy spreads

  • Cream cheese

  • Powdered milk

  • Yogurt

  • Pudding

  • Frozen Yogurt

  • Ice cream

Download the full list here

Soft/Sugary Drinks

Soft drinks and processed juices of all kinds are out of the question regardless of how good their marketing is, K? Out I tells ya! The exception I make is where you juice your own fruit at home and mix with vegetable juice also made at home.

Some Paleo advocates say your shouldn’t drink calories, and I’d agree with that, however I like to add an apple and orange to my veggie juice for taste. Besides, I’m gonna eat the apple and orange anyway!

  • Coke

  • Sprite

  • Pepsi

  • Mountain Dew

  • Fruit Juices

  • Apple Juice

  • Orange Juice

  • Grape Juice

  • Strawberry Juice

  • Chinola Juice

  • Mango Juice

Download the full list here

Grains (Wheat/Maize)

Anything that has a grain in it you should avoid on the paleo diet. My view is that if our ancestors were omnivores then it’s likely they ate wild grains and grasses, and even stored them for winter time.

I’ll mostly avoid grains and oats during this experiment but I may have porridge on the morning of a long run. Subscribe to the newsletter and I’ll send you updates on how I’m handling the new diet.

  • Cereals

  • Bread

  • Muffins

  • Scones

  • Pita Bread

  • Tortillas

  • Other Flat Breads

  • Toast

  • Sandwiches

  • Biscuits

  • Wheat Thins

  • Crackers

  • Oats*

  • Corn

  • Wheat

Download the full list here

Legumes/Pulses (Peas & Beans)

If you don’t know what a legume is that’s OK, either did I for a long time. They are otherwise known as pulses and generally include all peas and pulses. Paleo eating makes exceptions to the below which include green beans, mange tout, and snow peas because the green vegetable is very good for you.

For me, I make exception to the tire list because as far as I am concerned, as long as the source is reputable and the food is not processed then it’s good to go. I’ll eat these foods maybe once a week.

  • Black Beans

  • Broad Beans

  • Fava Beans

  • Garbanzo Beans

  • Horse Beans

  • Kidney Beans

  • Lima Beans

  • Mung Beans

  • Adzuki Beans

  • Navy Beans

  • Pinto Beans

  • Red Beans

  • String Beans

  • White Beans

  • Black Eyed Peas

  • Chickpeas

  • Peanuts

  • Peanut butter

  • Miso

  • Lentils

  • Lupins

  • Mesquite

  • Soybeans

  • All soybean products and derivatives

  • Tofu

Download the full list here

Sweets, Cakes & Candy Bars

Not much elaboration needed here. If it’s a chocolate bar, energy bar, protein bar, “health” bar of any kind, a dessert, a pudding, confectionery of any kind, or even home baking then it’s off limits.

Don’t kid yourself! If it comes in a packet with an ingredients list and there’s even a hint of it containing processed sugar then it’s very likely off limits.

Other Off Limits Foods

  • Fatty Processed Meats or Cheap Cuts

  • Spam (canned meat)

  • Hot Dogs

  • Burger Joint Burgers & Fast Food

  • Pizza & Pasta

  • Packaged Meat Slices

  • Starchy Vegetables such as white potatoes

  • Deep Fried Meat or Vegetables

  • All Flour Based Products

So that covers it… for now at least. The Paleo for endurance athletes and marathon runners eating plan has commenced as of today, 25th July 2016. I’ll be keeping a food diary and publishing it weekly here on the blog, so if you want to follow my progress and even join me, then sign up for updates to your inbox.

Download The Ultimate Paleo Food List For Endurance Athletes Guide — I’ve put together a guide to the paleo diet that I’m currently using. Download the guide and start making better food choices.

Like to connect deeper?

Larry G. Maguire

You can get more of the same every week by subscribing to The Smart Runner where I publish articles and a weekly podcast for marathon runners on Training, Nutrition and Positive Mindset.

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Originally published at on July 25, 2016.