The Paleo Diet for Athletes. Loren Cordain and Joel Friel.

Rather than do the kind of review I normally do (which aren’t typical reviews anyway), I’m going to highlight the points in this book that I find different from current paleo/primal views of folks like Robb Wolf and his Paleo Solution (PS) and Mark Sisson and his Primal Blueprint (PB).  Both of those books have been published in the past year or less, while The Paleo Diet for Athletes (PDA) was published back in 2005.  I do understand that Cordain is working on a new book, so I think it will be quite interesting to see what his take is on a few items that are much different in Wolf and Sisson.

The 1st differences I want to talk about are those between endurance athletes and the typical people PS and PB are addressed to.  While Sisson comes from a background as an endurance athlete (competitive Ironman triathlete and marathoner) he now thinks that kind of cardio is bad for you.  In fact, he dubs it Chronic Cardio and outlines the problems associated with it, at least as he sees them(*).  Wolf has more of a background with strength and crossfit type of exercise.  So in both cases, they are pretty high on low carb., which is much different than PDA.  I should note that on Wolf’s podcast he often talks about using carbs such as sweet potatoes and yams immediately following a workout, so that part is not different.  But PDA is much higher on fruits in general.  PDA specifically outlines periods of carb consumption as high as 50 percent, and at some limited periods 60%, of total caloric intake.   I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Wolf give a specific percentage — he’s pretty much against calorie counting for the most part (though there are times he sees the benefits), and Sisson talks of 100 – 150 carbs max as ideal (and sometimes suggests much less).  Even at 2500 calories, 150g of carbs would be 25 percent of intake, so you can see the large difference.

The other recommendations that I am really surprised by are listed below, because these seem quite different from current recommendations:

  • the recommendation of canola oil by PDA.  while PS doesn’t mention it specifically from what I recall, PB is adamantly against it
  • PDA recommends to steer clear of saturated fat, while it seems like the current paleo folks are ok with it, particularly if it is grass fed organic meat.  PDA recommends trimming all visible fats before cooking.
  • PDA recommends lean meats over fatty meats… This is one I’d like to dig more into to see what PB/PS/paleo folks are saying… All I recall are that any meat is ok, and in fact at least one blog (hunter gather love ??) talked about why lean meat won’t cut it on a truly paleo diet.  Seems like most current paleo thought is that fatty meat is actually good and necessary (to get enough caloric load)
  • PDA recommended agains canned fish like sardines and herring, while PS and PB both seem to be for it.
  • PDA says 15 minutes of sunlight per day is enough for adequate vitamin D, even in the winter, while both PB and PS are big into supplementation — as much as several thousand mg per day of D3.  (but both recommend regular blood testing as vit D can be toxic)
  • As mentioned above, PDA is high on any fruit any time, while PS and PB want to limit fruits due to their insulin load.  I do take it from Wolf that this is more individualized, and that if you are lean and healthy, more fruit is ok.  I sure hope so!  🙂
  • PDA has ZERO mention of coconut oil from what I can find, while PB and PS are high on it.  I’ve really enjoyed learning to use it the past couple of months.
  • PDA says to limit eggs to no more than 6 per week.  I explicitly recall on the PS podcast recently that they don’t agree with this unless you have some kind of allergy; otherwise, they are all for lots of eggs.  I make 5 egg omelets for breakfast sometimes!  I definitely eat more than 6 per week most weeks.

Finally, I would just say I was really surprised by PDA’s talk of following the American Heart Associations recommendations of limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of overall calories and limiting dietary cholesterol.  Maybe I’m too deep into Gary Taube’s “Good Calories Bad Calories” right now, which seems to blow apart this hypothesis, but it also seems to go agains PB and PS and all the other paleo blogs out there!

(*) Suffice it to say that I don’t fully agree with Sisson on his views of Chronic Cardio.  I do think that for people that work out 5-6 days per week at 90%+ maximum heart rate, there is a problem.  You definitely need to mix it up with lower effort level aerobics as well as short sprints and “lifting heavy things.”  I wonder if he would be cool if I explained to him my view that my ultra running is part of my “play time.”  🙂

1 thought on “The Paleo Diet for Athletes. Loren Cordain and Joel Friel.

  1. You should post to Sisson’s forum. He seems really open to any civil disagreement or question.

    I have started incorporating his 5 Essential Movements, with some modification, into what I do. I enjoy his website and ebook (thanks to you pointing them out to me). Most of it is stuff I was already thinking about, but reading it made me more motivated to go in that direction.

    You’re correct that he does not like canola oil. Short version: too processed. Complete version:

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