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Reasons Why The Paleo Diet Is Taking Hold In The NBA

Published on December 16, 2013,

Writing for, basketball specialist Ken Berger has published a series of articles on nutrition in the NBA and in this extract from part two of three he focussed on the impact of the low carb paleo diet…

Polski: Ray Allen

Ray Allen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…For various reasons, players from different walks of the NBA life are making dramatic changes to their diets in the hopes of achieving their goals. In the case of Ray Allen, it’s trying to squeeze a few more 3-pointers out of his 38-year-old body. For 24-year-old Blake Griffin, it’s laying the foundation for a long, productive career. For Derrick Rose, 25, it’s the recurring nightmare of bolstering his body to recover from injury…

“I think guys are becoming more aware,” said Allen, who began following a modified Paleolithic diet after the Heat won their second straight NBA title in June. “… When you start eating the salads and the proteins and fruits – in Whole Foods, I kill the fruit and vegetables section – you just feel so much fresher and cleaner.”

A Paleo-what? The Paleolithic diet — Paleo, for short — involves eating like our caveman ancestors did: lean meats, wild-caught fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar or processed foods. Its proponents call it the “anti-inflammatory diet” on the theory that avoiding processed carbs and sugars decreases inflammation in the body — the kind that causes joint pain and the kind that a growing number of medical authorities believe contributes to heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

After the Heat beat the Spurs in the Finals – in large part due to Allen’s clutch 3-pointer late in Game 6 — Allen felt depleted, achy and believed he’d become dependent on anti-inflammatory medication just to get onto the floor. Then 37, the NBA’s career 3-point leader had just completed his 17th season. A model of health, fitness and preparation, Allen felt his body finally rebelling against him. And he didn’t like it one bit.

“My mentality was that I’m burning so much, I need the sugar and I need carbs,” Allen said. “But toward the end of the year, I remember being on anti-inflammatories and my body always felt like I was hopped up on drugs just to decrease the inflammation.”

Allen’s wife told him about the Paleo diet and its purported anti-inflammatory properties. He studied it, asked questions, and resolved to start it on July 1, but couldn’t wait. Allen took the Paleo plunge on June 26, six days after the Heat closed out the Spurs in Game 7.

“I cut everything out, and within three weeks I lost 10 pounds,” Allen said. “I stuck with it all summer long and learned to eat even cleaner.”

Allen confronted his one dilemma with the program once training camp began. With his activity level ramped up — practices, weightlifting sessions, the endless shooting he does to hone his craft — he began to feel depleted. So he did something that even one of the world’s top proponents of the Paleo diet acknowledges is OK for athletes with a high activity level: He increased his consumption of carbs.

“That’s absolutely what needs to be done,” said Robb Wolf, a biochemist, author of the New York Times best-seller, “The Paleo Solution” and a student of Paleolithic nutrition expert Loren Cordain.

“When you start looking at any type of high-level athlete, they need a lot of carbs to be able to function optimally – potatoes, some sweet potatoes, some white rice,” Wolf said. “That’s spot on to make this thing work.”

Wolf works most often with people who are sick and obese, and those with type II diabetes and/or other metabolic diseases are best served by a strict Paleo diet with very little starch and no dairy, he said. But professional athletes and members of the military are equally motivated to try the Paleo lifestyle for optimal health, and there’s more than one way to do it.

“If they do something that improves their recovery, they feel a little better, their cognition is a little better, their fine motor skills are maintained and they’re able to train a little bit harder or a little more often,” Wolf said. “They just don’t get so beaten down.”…

More at:  Nutrition in the NBA; Part II: Paleo diet takes hold for myriad reasons

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