Back to genetics: The Paleo diet represents a simple and nutrient-dense diet that many people will do very well on. But, we have to recognise that some people have moved on genetically from this 20 000-year-old model and some individuals may actually do quite well on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Some people can eat large amounts of grains and legumes and be very healthy, although they are probably the minority of our population. Research will come in time to answer these questions; up until now, research has focused more on the best diet for everybody, which of course is impossible to determine.
PROTEIN FOR THE ATHLETE
When I construct a diet for an athlete, whether I think they are more of a Paleo or a vegan type, I focus firstly on protein before fats and carbs. According to scientific theory, athletes require about 1.4 g of protein per kg body mass per day for essential functions, although this convention is open to some serious questioning. That amount, for example, equates to around 110 g protein per day for an 80 kg athlete.
What does this mean in real terms though? If you take a look at the table, it tells you how many grams of certain foods you’ll need for 20 g of protein – from this you can work out how many grams you get from breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and sports nutrition supplements. As you can see, all you need is a very tiny chicken breast or piece of meat or fish or three small eggs to get 20 g, whereas you’ll need a whole block of tofu, over 1⁄2 litre of milk, 100 g cashew nuts, a large tin of baked beans or more than 1⁄2 kg of brown rice from non-animal sources. As an aside here, if you are vegan, there are only a small number of non-animal foods that will provide you with a complete protein. However, you can also combine a legume and a grain (e.g. lentils and brown rice or baked beans on toast) and the combination will ensure a complete protein source, although as you can see from this table, the quantities required in theory may be unattainable. So, being a vegan athlete is tough, although, for some, a possibility (read Thrive Diet by Brendon Brazier).