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Paleo Diet Explained


The following guide by Maximuscle will tell you everything you need to know about the paleo diet; a way of eating that has more than stood the test of time.


What is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is eating as our ancestors did, following a diet as hunter-gatherers. It's avoiding processed foods, grains and dairy but eating lean meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit and nuts.

As a guide, here are the macronutrient levels of a paleo diet vs Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs):

(% of total unless stated)
Paleo Current DRIs
Carbohydrate 35-65 45-65
- of which sugars 2 <10
Protein 25-30 10-35
Fat 20-35 20-35
- of which saturates 10 <10
Fibre >70g/d 38g/d males
25g/d females
Sodium <1000mg/d 1500mg/d
Potassium 7000mg/d 4700mg/d
Vitamin C 500 mg/d 90mg/d males
75mg/d females
Vitamin D 4000IU/d 1000IU/d
g/d - grams per day , mg/d - milligrams per day, IU/d - international units per day
Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, 2005

What is Paleo Food?

Followers of the diet plan can enjoy a number of paleo foods, as the below chart illustrates:

The Paleo Diet pyramid - 15% nuts, 35% fruit and vegetables, 50% meat and fish

Nutrition for Endurance Sports

The nutritional requirements will depend upon the exercising demand and training goal. Below are the suggested guidelines for nutritional focus based on a periodised training cycle. All macronutrients are range amounts due to variable event distance and training intensity.

Paleo for Athletes

To date there is no published research on the effects of a paleo diet on endurance athletes' performance. However, a paleo diet plan may still offer some benefits. Let's compare the generic guidelines for performance nutrition and the paleo diet guidelines.

High training volume (5 - 12 hr/week) / lower training intensity

Aerobic development
Maintained to lower volume (4 - 10 hr/week) / higher training intensity

Anaerobic development
Lower volume (3 - 8 hr/week) / high training quality and quantity

Race specific
Volume and intensity very low (2 - 4 hr/week)

Rest and recovery
High caloric load for volume

Daily Macro Target
6 - 12 g CHO/kgBW/d
1.5 - 1.7 g PRO/kgBW/d
1.5 - 2 g FAT/kgBW/d
High caloric load during intense training

Daily Macro Target
6 - 12 g CHO/kgBW/d
1.5 - 1.7 g PRO/kgBW/d
1 - 1.5 g FAT/kgBW/d
Nutrition during racing

Daily Macro Target
6 - 10 g CHO/kgBW/d
1.5 - 1.7 g PRO/kgBW/d
0.8 - 1.2 g FAT/kgBW/d
Nutrition whilst resting and recovering

Daily Macro Target
4 - 6 g CHO/kgBW/d
0.8 - 1.2 g PRO/kgBW/d
1 - 1.5 g FAT/kgBW/d

N.B. Adapted from Nutrition for power sports - Stellingwerff, Maughan & Burke, 2011

X/kgBW/d = Nutrient per kg of body weight per day

How Does the Paleo Diet Compare?

Nutrient Performance Nutrition for Endurance Performance Benefits of Paleo Diet Negatives of Paleo Diet
Carbohydrate A high CHO diet Low GI sources, low in sugar and rich in micronutrients Low in starchy calorie yielding sources
Protein Variable protein content but higher than the DRI Plentiful sources of protein Animal sources often have high saturated fat levels
Fat Similar to DRIs although potentially lower in the taper phase Fish sources boost essential fatty acids and a favourable Omega 6 to 3 ratio High saturated sources of food
Sodium & Potassium Balanaced to support training, Higher than the DRI Lower levels are recommended as a daily intake Not supportive of higher levels for athletes
Vitamin D & Calcium Higher than the DRI Fruit and vegetables provide a rainbow of vitamins and minerals Food sources are low in vitamin D and calcium
Vitamin C Higher than the DRI Over 400mg higher than the DRI None
Adapted from Konner & Eaton, Paleolithic Nutrition, 2010

Other Considerations:

Benefit - Paleo is anti-processed food which may limit the consumption of added sodium, sugars and trans fats

Benefit - Paleo is easy to follow with lots of food varieties and natural healthy choices

Negative - Paleo can be an expensive and challenging diet with organic and fresh food choices

A paleo diet offers several benefits. However, with the lack of applied research and with obvious dietary gaps, to fully commit to such a diet may impact endurance performance.

Not sure if the paleo diet is right for you? Find the perfect plan by reading our in-depth diets explained guide.