Q&A: Ultramarathoners and Paleo

Here’s a good question from a pretty serious runner I thought you all might be interested in.

You can still run on a Paleo dietI have a question… my husband and I are ultra marathoners. We are wondering if eating Paleo is safe for us? We ve been on it for almost 5 weeks, no cheating at all. Stuck to the diet but unfortunately, we felt so weak and fatigue. Not to mention crankiness! We have a race this Saturday running 50K…. We try to eat sweet potatoes in small portion, a couple times a week. Upped fats into our diet (coconut oil, bacon grease, EVOO).

We run an ultra marathon once a month. Any suggestion? I do feel lightheaded and out of shape even though we ran GREAT before starting PALEO now we feel like crap and tired. We struggled to lose weight before Paleo and then tried paleo and we did lose 10 lbs (each of us) in 4 weeks but that’s it.. im sure it was just the water retention. Feedbacks would be appreciated!


Answer from Neely:

Great question.

If you guys are doing an ultramarathon once a month, you DEFINITELY need to be eating more carbs. Like sweet potatoes and squash and fruit every day. It doesn’t surprise me at all that you guys are feeling terrible. Here’s what I’d do. Put your food intake into an online journal like fitday.com or myfitnesspal.com or one of those. Figure out how much food you’re eating and how many calories you should be eating, given your size, desired weight, and activity level. Then from there, here are some guidelines for changes to make.

1 gram of protein per pound of LEAN body weight. So if you’re 150 and you have 25% body fat, you’d need to get 112.5 grams of protein a day. 4 oz of meat has around 25-45 grams of protein, FYI.

At least 100 grams of carbs a day plus about 50 extra grams per every hour of cardio you do. You’ll need to get that from sweet potatoes, potatoes, tapioca flour, nuts, fruit, lots of veggies, and honey in your case since you’re running so much. HOWEVER…

The thing is that the more fat you eat, the better your body will get at using it as fuel rather than carbs. Try for like 1 g of fat per pound of lean body mass just like the protein. Especially medium chain fatty acids like coconut oil. Some runners and cyclists will actually take coconut oil or almond butter out with them on their long workouts instead of gu or other sugary things because their bodies get so good at burning it. You’ll have to work up to this in your training. So put extra coconut oil in your food and eat coconut milk curries, don’t skimp on the avocados or bacon fat (within caloric reason, that is) – things like that.

Make sure you’re eating enough calories for the work you’re doing. If you really want to keep running well, you need to eat enough calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, then maybe lay off the running for a little while so you can have a calorie deficit and not feel totally terrible.

If you want specific help with this, I do personal Paleo coaching. Just let me know if you’re interested by emailing neely@paleoplan.com. Also, Nell Stephenson at www.nellstephenson.com has some awesome info on this topic. She’s a Paleo nutritionist and successful Ironman athlete. In the meantime, read this post for more information about how to deal with being an active Paleo eater.

Anyone else have any insights as a distance runner who eats Paleo?


    1. Hi Nell! Thanks for the update on the site – I’ll definitely remember that. And you’re very welcome – I refer people to you all the time!

  1. I am a cyclist and when I started the Paleo plan I went out with some cycling friends and we were hammering fairly hard. About 3 miles from the end of our ride I bonked and had to use a Goo pack to help me get home. I eat at least two -three large sweet potato’s a day along with other fruits and vegetables what do you think caused this. I am getting ready to ramp my cycling up again real soon and do not want to experience this again. Any suggestions?

    1. @Augie – Had you eaten enough food that day? How long was your ride? You may not have started refueling quickly enough during the ride; that happens with normal eaters, too. You have to get ahead of the bonk by eating and drinking, starting at about the 60 minute mark. If you’re eating 2-3 sweet potatoes a day, that’s good, but I’m wondering if you’re also eating enough fat?

  2. I am so suprised that ultra marathoners and long distance bikers are even writing to this site wondering why they are cranky and tired and not training like they used to. You are not eating enough carbohydrates. Period. It’s amazing to me that you don’t get that. Don’t be taken by this way of eating, it certainly is not the only way. You all say you were doing fine before. Keep it that way. Incorporate whole grains instead of refined grains and sugar. Enough said.

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