Paleo Plan

What Do Olympic Gymnasts Eat?

Special K, chocolate milk, chicken, regular milk, granola bars, fruit, and veggies. That is, at least for Aly Raisman, the 18 year old team captain of the United States Olympic Women’s Gymnastic Team. Here’s a video of her showing you what she eats and why. Not so Paleo.

My question is simple. What would happen – I mean, how much stronger would these athletes be if they ate Paleo? I wonder that when I see my super strong rock climber friends eating a SAD diet. They’d be superheroes if they fueled themselves properly.

We’re all given a certain genetic potential, I think, and some athletes certainly achieve a whole lot even when they eat copious amounts of sugar, refined grains, and other foods we’d all be better without. But what if we weren’t told, as Aly Raisman was, that pasteurized, conventional chocolate milk has been “proven to be the best recovery food” on the planet ever to have existed? How much better at gymnastics would she be if she ate the foods she was designed to eat? She’s a beast. Please don’t get me wrong here: I am astonished by her strength, poise, balance, and gall. I’m just wondering how far these athletes could really take their sport.

A study recently came out in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition exploring what would happen if elite gymnasts did actually eat Paleo. Well, in this case it was a very low carb ketogenic diet. The authors stated that “The diet was based on green vegetables, olive oil, fish and meat plus dishes composed of high quality protein and virtually zero carbohydrates..” After 30 days on this diet, which I think is a fair amount of time for them to adapt, they found there were no significant changes in strength. The only difference they found was that the athletes had lost weight in the form of fat. The good news is they did a research study on the efficacy of low carb diets on elite athletes! So many coaches and athletes are still so focused on carbs carbs carbs being the answer, especially refined ones. This is a step in the right direction.

But perhaps this study answers my question. Maybe they wouldn’t be any stronger at all if they ate Paleo… But maybe given a longer period of time on the diet, they would excel. Or maybe given just the right macronutrient ratio with Paleo foods, the women would start being just as strong as the men currently are. Maybe we just need to tinker a little more with this idea to make our Olympians into (even bigger) superheroes, after all.

Maybe I need to apply to be the nutritionist for the Olympic gymnastics team in 2016…


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  1. Neely I completely agree! My son has been involved in Taekwondo for over two years. He eats primarily paleo foods. He is 5 and is ripped and very strong. The boys can do several free hanging pull ups without practice. He has a class mate who is heavily involved in sports as well but eats a diet of donuts, soda and the like. He looks sickly skinny no muscle definition at all. I’ve concluded the very apparent difference between the two is most difinitevely the way I nourish my son’s growing body. Paleo could revolutionize the Olympics as we know it, I’m sure!

  2. I am so excited about this news and at least a study shows that Low or zero carbohydrate diet (even for 30 days) like the Paleo Diet can lose weight better than a low fat diet.

  3. Allison

    Maybe we’d all be Olympic gymnasts if we were raised paleo from birth ;)

  4. I am a 26 year old adult gymnast, who has recently adopted a fairly heavily paleo diet. Within three weeks not only did I lost about 8 pounds without trying, but I also started being able to do some skills that I had never done before, because I felt more “springy” and powerful. I am very excited about my new eating habits and I look forward to seeing how many more gymnastics skills I will be able to learn!!

  5. Surprising to hear something like that from such an elite athelete. Imagine being able to see results from her on a Whole30 challenge.

  6. Well, to be honest, chocolate milk has a lot going for it:

    whey protein (spikes insulin, super fast digesting)
    casein (spikes insulin but unravels protein slowly for hours)
    glucose (replenishes glycogen and spikes insulin)
    theobromine (mild stimulant and anti-depressant)

    Would a sweet potato and meat be “better” somehow? Not really; it would probably make her perform worse, if that were her recovery meal.

    Just because slow-digesting, low-glycemic meals are good for the general nonathletic populace doesn’t mean the same is true for athletes.

  7. Aly is sponsored by Kellogg’s and that’s why she’s promoting special k. Most of the elite gymnasts are known to be on diets of mostly proteins in the form of chicken and fish and otherwise fruits and vegetables, with minimal other carbs.

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