Paleo Athletes Uncovered: Olympic Hopeful Ursula Grobler

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Ursula Grobler

Can an endurance athlete be successful eating a paleo diet?  I hear this question all of the time and I was actually the one asking it a few years ago.  Does it work?  Yep.  How do I know?  I tried it and actually won a marathon eating paleo.  My experience completely changed my life – it was then that I truly decided paleo was legit.  It’s been a little over two years for me now; and fortunately in that time I’ve had the opportunity to work with and prove to many elite and highly competitive endurance athletes that paleo doesn’t just work – it makes them better!  How do they do it?  It’s all very individual and we work together, changing and adjusting as needed until everything is dialed in.

This post will be the first of many giving you a look into the world of a paleo athlete.  First up is superstar rower Ursula Grobler.  Ursula is currently working toward an Olympic berth at the London 2012 games.  I have had the pleasure of working with Ursula on her nutrition since January.  She’s definitely got the desire and dedication it takes to be a champion.  Now let’s hear what Ursula’s got to say about life as a paleo athlete.

Eight Questions with Ursula Grobler:

Question #1:

Why did you switch to a paleo diet?

Ursula’s Answer:  I saw what some of the other lightweight rowers were doing to make weight; ie: not eating and then gorging on doughnuts after weigh-ins, and I thought that there must be a better way to be lean and still perform. At the time, I worked at the Anytime Fitness Gym in Lake Stevens, WA.   My manager there connected me with a dietitian that was a paleo advocate and that was my introduction to the paleo diet.  When I first started it was really hard to grasp the routine of eating this way.  I battled a lot and ‘cheated’ many times and for a few years was on and then off.  I loved sandwiches and milk and cereal and it was incredibly hard to undo these patterns.  But the science of the diet made sense, and the way I felt while on paleo was my real proof.  So I kept plugging away at being from 50% paleo to 70% to 90% to now, where I do my best to keep to the diet.  I don’t even feel like I’m missing out anymore.

Question #2:

How has Paleo helped you?

Ursula’s Answer:  At first the amount of energy I had was noticeably different.  I could hold a larger volume of training and recovery was faster.  I also noticed how my nerves and cognitive ability kept sharp and those sluggish lulls in the day were being erased.  My whole quality of life went up, with little things like my allergies that went away and I was sickless often. I was more productive and had more time for what I really wanted to do.

With more training, I catapulted into the rowing scene breaking the world record on the Concept 2 rowing machine just three years after taking my first strokes at a “Learn to Row Class”.  I learned to row at the age of 26 and now I’m standing in line as an Olympic hopeful for 2012.  I believe diet had a huge part in making this dream, that I was told had passed me by, possible!

As I’ve switched into what I call paleo lifestyle. I am passionate knowing that eating this way has a huge impact on our environment.  Farm raised versus wild caught; grass fed, free ranging over caged and hormone injected. Unfortunately, I don’t have money to donate to the causes that lobby for better practices over profits.  I can’t make a movie to bring awareness of the cost of eating the standard American diet and thus supporting fast foods giants and pharmaceutical companies.  But I can have influence over what I buy and what I eat.  Choosing to eat paleo means no processed foods and fewer factories, plastics, and boxes leaving more soil for local farmers.  It means less transport, thus less use of fossil fuels and more peace.  This fosters in me more love; less stress.  It’s going back to basics.  It’s a great way to live.

Question #3: 

What’s the hardest thing about being a Paleo athlete?

Ursula’s Answer:  The hardest thing about being a paleo athlete is traveling.  From the moment you get into the international plane that feeds you rice cakes and pretzels, to being in the hotel where the meals are covered in sauces of dairy and bread fillers.  It’s not dire, because out of the adversity I have learned to find the local grocery stores in the towns where we are competing.  I buy fresh paleo foods.  These foods are often hard to store and/or cook in a hotel room with no kitchen.  But this makes for fun and necessary excursions or site-seeing, depending on how you look at it.  And usually by the end of a competition I’m great friends with the hotel kitchen staff.

Question #4:

What are your favorite Paleo foods?

Ursula’s Answer:  Pumpkin – (Although I try to eat seasonally, here I am thankful I can get this all year round).  There is nothing like smoked salmon and grilled peaches are just about the best.

I love kale as the leaves in any salad.  I love the way it looks and the way it tastes!  I really like an oven grilled whole chicken.  And mango – I love leaning over the kitchen sink getting my hands covered in juice – the whole messy experience of eating around the hard seed and then cleaning my teeth afterwards from all the fibrous strands!  I really like pumpkin seed butter too!

Question #5:

Do other athletes and/or coaches try to convert you to a ‘normal’ athlete’s diet (high carbs, low fat)?

Ursula’s Answer:  Not athletes.  Most athletes are open to learn.  Coaches want performance, so if you perform – then it’s your business how you eat.  It’s when you don’t perform that they will start questioning your diet, but usually at this point it’s not the diet, there are other mental factors like lack of sleep and high cortisol levels that seem to be the hindrance.  The most critical are medical doctors actually.  Funny how that works out?  The people who are thought to know the most about your workings don’t care about your well-being.

Question #6:

Do you have any words of wisdom?

Ursula’s Answer:  Small things helped me in the beginning – like shopping only the perimeter of the grocery store and staying out of the aisles!  Watching less TV and being less subjected to the ads telling me what to eat all the time!  Also, reading labels – if I couldn’t pronounce it or it had more than five ingredients, I didn’t buy it.  Start taking outings to farmers markets, making time to cook and enjoy eating with your hands (just meaning handling the foods and eating them raw!)  Basically, don’t have a food phobia, counting calories, stressing about fat content, etc. Enjoy your food.  Sit down, really taste it.  If you eat paleo foods your taste buds will be alive and the whole experience of eating will be just that, an experience; and you get to do it every day, at least three times. WOW!  Now that’s a bargain in entertainment!

Question #7:

How can Robb and I help you get to the 2012 Olympics?

Ursula’s Answer:  Just keep refining all the details as we are doing.  When I have to make weight, stay hydrated, be fresh, and perform in these super competitive power-endurance races. It’s all part of the journey and we are tinkering with it together.  In my experience it’s always changing. I wanted one-plan and one way – but the body adapts and so do the conditions you are training in.  You need to change it up and keep it fresh – it’s a very involved process.

Question #8:

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Ursula’s Answer:  As competitive as I am as an athlete, I bring the same vigor into what eating this way brings to living for all mankind.  I know this will help keep people out of hospitals, stop obesity (seriously, how do you overeat on vegetables and lean meats?).  There will be more time spent with the soil and with our souls.  Right now my training and goal of the Olympics is quite consuming, but afterwards I can’t wait to use all this experience and influence to teach others what this lifestyle can do for them.  Paleo living gives life back!

Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts with us Ursula!  You are truly Elite!!!

If you would like to learn more about Ursula visit her websites at:

www.ursulagrobler.com

www.rowstarproject.com

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  1. Crunchy Pickle
    September 8, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Awesome! I love hearing of competitive athletes doing paleo!!

  2. Jim C.
    September 8, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Thanks for the interview Amy. And thanks for telling us about yourself Ursula! Best of luck, and I for one will be rooting for you in 2012!

  3. Mel
    September 8, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Very cool article. Thanks for the interview! Ursula’s story is really inspiring – to learn something when you’re an adult & just shoot up into the elite eschelons is amazing!

  4. Henry
    September 8, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Ursula,

    Can you please share a typical day of eating for both training, and race day? Thanks!

    • Ursula
      September 10, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      a typical day starts with scrambled eggs, a meat like turkey and what ever veggies i feel like (mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, leeks, spring onions.

      if i’m heading out for training, i’ll do a little baked yam with nuts with that scramble.

      after training i’ll do a little hammer nutrition’s recoverite. then get home and do a big salad mix, with tuna or chicken. my favourite variation is always the dressing. with the blender, mixing combos like basil, mustard, olive oil, balsamic, apple cider… my salads are like little creations. have to give a shout out to living tree community and omega nutrition because they have such fun ingredients like pumpkin seed oil.

      snacks include carrots, celery, dipped in home made pesto sauce (sans parmesan) or tomato basil sauce or the old favourite: almond/sunflower seed/pumpkin seed butter.

      dinner is some kind of squash with beef, fish, bison or lamb ect. i make sure the meats are grassfed and not grain-finished. (what an awful after-fact ‘organic’ butchers forget to add.) veggies like roasted cauliflower. again what ever looks good to my taste buds for this feeding. its a very organic and evolving way i eat.

      ___

      in competition, i have to measure and be a more strict because i compete at a certain weight (like wrestlers) and so need to make sure what ever i eat gives me the most bang for the buck.

      here i’ll do hard boiled eggs, whey protein powder mixed in pumkin or apple sauce.

      later small plate of veggies and lean meat

      later same as above, small plate veggies and lean meat with small yam or potato.

      best,
      ursula grobler

  5. Jaska
    September 8, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Great stuff, I will definately share this! Thanks for the interview Ursula and good luck with your olympic endeavours!

  6. Zepp
    September 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Here is an Olympic gold vinner in biathlon on paleo.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B6rn_Ferry

  7. Zepp
    September 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    And Jonas Colting Ultraman world champion.

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/jonas-colting/

  8. Maryann
    September 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    From one Paleo endurance athlete to another… you ROCK, Ursula! I cannot wait to follow your progress at the Olympics! I will be sharing your post with all my ultra running and racewalking friends!

    I am nowhere near the level of athlete you are, but at 50 years old, I am still getting PR’s, so, I am not finished!

    Maryann

  9. Josh Frey
    September 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I wish someone would do a detailed post on the research behind paleo and athletic performance. I already eat paleo for health reasons, but I’m still unsure of whether to eat more fruits and starches for anaerobic sports.

    • Amy Kubal
      September 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      Be patient Josh! There is going to be LOTS more of this to come!!

    • Mitch
      September 9, 2011 at 8:56 am

      I also would love to see more endurance based paleo stuff. I know that’s not Robb’s background, but the endurance athlete crowd probably stand to gain a lot, since the high carb demands seem to be at odds with much of the diet.

      • Amy Kubal
        September 9, 2011 at 10:22 am

        It’s coming!!!

      • Andy
        September 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm

        I agree. I love the paleo framework as presented by Robb and think its a great place to start. That said, there’s not a whole lot of information for those of us with an endurance bias. Thanks!

  10. Ursula
    September 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you so much for all the support! Next April is trials for TEAM USA in Chula Vista, California at The Olympic Training Center. Let’s Go!

  11. Brian
    September 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks Ursula for your paleo story and I wish you great success in you drive for the Olympics. I am the only paleo person/athlete I know and I jumped to read your post. I really appreciate your responses and your sample menu, as an add-on may I ask what you drink? I drink plenty of water and have black tea, funny, I lost my desire for beer after I went paleo but still find it very difficult not to reach for a soft drink with dinner or in my down time. What do you do for drinks?

    Amy, thanks for getting Ursula’s story, really looking forward to the pending info for endurance athletes. Will you include paleo to be used during events/training? I recently ditched Gatorade for pure coconut water, amazing stuff, that’s gotta be paleo right? Unfortunately I can not find a nutritional mix that isn’t a soy based lab experiment. I’m prepping for Ironman and have long training days every week, consuming these concoctions on a regular basis is a big concern, any paleo alternative would rock. Thank You!

    • Amy Kubal
      September 12, 2011 at 5:22 am

      Brian, I’m really excited about this too! I have been working with athletes for over two years now and really have some things figured out! I will most definitely be a addressing pre/during and post event nutrition details. Great move on the coconut water – you may want to add a pinch or two of salt to it in order to get the sodium that Gatorade and other sports drinks provide, but you are definitely on the right track! Keep it up!

      • Brian
        September 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm

        That sounds great, I am so looking forward to reading your future articles, thanks for the tip on salt in the coconut water, will do!
        On a side note I want to thank you and Robb and everyone here for all the work you do with paleo nutrition, my health has improved in so many ways, thank you, please keep it up

        • Amy Kubal
          September 16, 2011 at 5:14 am

          Will do Brian! And you are so welcome! Thank you for supporting us!

  12. Rahsaan
    September 12, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Amy and Ursula,

    Thanks so much for this. I’m an avid martial artist. I don’t compete, but do martial arts 4 or 5 days a week. Usually anywhere from 2 to 3 hours. It’s a mixture of grappling arts, like BJJ, MMA and Greco-Roman wrestling to striking arts, such as JKD, Panatukan, Muay Thai and Weapons. I’m a paleo-adherent and I also do some intermittent fasting. I’m pretty lean and in good shape at 5’11”. I usually range between 184 to 190 pounds based on how I’ve been eating and how active I am any given week.

    I also do intermittetnly fast most days as I’m not hungry in the mornings and usually may have a light snack of mixed berries in the late afternoon before leaving work to fight. I usually eat a dinner of meat and leafy greens (and sometimes sweet potatoes or carrots or parsnips or plantains) at night when I get home.

    I’d be curious to see an entry on successful paleo martial artists who also intermittently fast.

  13. Rahsaan
    September 12, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Thanks, Amy and Ursula! This was great.

    I’d be curious to see an entry on paleo martial artists. I practice martial arts 4 or 5 days a week and am paleo. Any given day is usually a combo of striking arts (Panantukan, Muay Thai or JKD) and grappling (BJJ, MMA, Greco-Roman). I don’t compete, and only practice for recreation, fitness and self-defense.

    Most days I intermittently fast as I’m almost never hungry in the morning. If I do get hungry in the afternoon, I’ll eat a small snack, like a thawed bag of frozen mixed berried from Trader Joe or Whole Foods before I leave work to go fight classes for 2 or 3 hours. I usually am hungry at night when I get home, and will typically eat meat (I’ve a grassfeeding farmer I buy goat, beef and sheep/lamb from in bulk ) or fatty fish with leafy greens and sometimes root veggies, like sweet potato or carrots or parsnips.

    I’m pretty lean and muscular at 5’11”. I usually range between 184 to 190 lbs any given week.

    I’d definitely like to see a feature on successful paleo martial artists if possible.

    • Amy Kubal
      September 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

      I’ll see what I can do!!

      • Rahsaan
        September 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

        Awesome! Thanks, Amy!

  14. Rahsaan
    September 12, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Oops. Sorry about the double comment. I thought my initial one didn’t take.

  15. Tressa
    September 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Congratulations Ursula! Such an inspiring story to read what you accomplished in your mid-twenties. Thank you for sharing Amy. Wishing you both all the best!

  16. Dave Hopkins
    September 13, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Interesting and perhaps inspiring, yes, but highly conspicuous is any wisp of vegetarian/vegan participation in this thread.
    As a tree climber aged 55 – though I don’t bust ass like I used to – I can put in a decent day’s work, and have for many years, without eating any meat, fish or eggs. On a good day, I have dusted off 16 HONEST chin-ups, and try to do 30-40 per day to stay current.
    Most of my other daily activity involves lots of walking, some push-ups and vigorous stair climbing; hardly on par with Olympic rowers!
    Yeah, peas, beans and lentils do create gas, but seem otherwise easy to digest, while nuts, pea protein and chia protein powder round out my protein needs for the most part.
    Personally, I just cannot bring myself to eat meat, but won’t begrudge any other athlete that choice.
    I’d like to hear from vegetarians or vegans who maintain an extremely active lifestyle that doesn’t involve animal cruelty in bringing food to their table – and helps round out blogs like these.

    Dave

    • Robb Wolf
      September 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      Welcome Dave! In addition to biochemistry and nutrition we will also help you with the morality issue:
      http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/972951/posts

      I’d love to have you participate in whatever discussions you’d like, but the purpose the this blog is nto to “round anything out” it’s to discuss an evolutionary bassi to human existence. this si why I do not troll vegan boards trying to instill my “rightness” on them. With that caveat in place, let me know how I can help.

      • Rahsaan
        September 14, 2011 at 9:14 am

        Hi, Robb. Sorry that I couldn’t make the book signing party you did here in NYC with John Durant’s crew. Keep up the excellent service you’re doing for us all with this site and your other outlets!

    • Kalvin Davis
      January 18, 2013 at 8:49 am

      Im am vegan and lovin it. What is some positive evedence that the paleo diet is very healthy. I am not trying to cause problems just curious. Their are many patience that have switched to a plant baised diet like bill clinton and have experienced great results with weight, choloesterol, and body recooperation. If humans have evolved in clothing, technology, speech, and behavior why does diet stay the same.

      • Amy Kubal
        January 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

        Read some of the blog posts and testimonials Kalvin! You’ll have all the evidence you need that Paleo WORKS!!

  17. Kathryn
    September 17, 2011 at 5:51 am

    I’m so excited to see this post and the pending endurance athlete info! I experimented with paleo early in the year during base building for my triathlon season but gradually abandoned it, about 50% now so really not paleo, when the training and racing got more intense and I felt like I lacked energy. It was just easier to resort to the typical athlete diet of grains etc than to try and figure it out. BUT I know I felt better and as though I was on to something. Let alone the obvious overall health benefits! I am reinspired to get back on track as I head into the fall and look forward to preparing for ironman next year. Want to be able to balance my health while persuing my passion. Thank you so much for the work you’ve done Robb and Amy and for your efforts in sharing information. I will definitely stay tuned.

    • Amy Kubal
      September 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      Kathryn, It is possible to successfully stay Paleo and still perform and recover optimally! Definitely more to come on this and if you’d like some individual attention let me know! I’d love to help you get it all figured out and dialed in!

  18. Michael
    November 12, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Thank you for the article. I found it “reassuring”. As a crossfitter, I’m on my third Paleo Challenge – a 6-week stab at the program. This has been my easiest round since my wife has come aboard too. Still trying to comes to terms with the science of it all, but find it fascinating. Finally found an article about a true athlete walking the walk. Hope to see more profiles soon. I don’t see myself reverting to my old diet of cereal and PB&J’s everyday, but struggle mightily with after-dinner woes. Would love any suggestions there!

    Also, I’m already quite lean (6’3, 175 lbs.) and hope I can put on some lean weight with paleo. Really interested to see more athlete profiles to show the possibilities. Thanks!

    • Amy Kubal
      November 13, 2011 at 7:11 am

      Thanks Michael and more profiles are coming soon!! :o)

  19. Brad Chase
    May 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing Ursula.

    Would you say sweet potatoes, yams, and squash are in your menu everyday?

    Any others that you typically add in?

  20. Kenneth Phillips
    May 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I am a begininng paleo runner that has went out to fast to to prepare for a half marathon i will be participating in on May 19th! I haven’t built any kind of substantial base miles consequently, because i’ve been injured and lack the sustained energy i need for endurance! I feel great being paleo!I started in January and is not a diet for me, but most assuredly a lifestyle of eating! I’m not sure what to eat pre, during, and after the half marathon! I just want to finish well, then i will start from scratch to build a base and to learn how to sustain energy while training and competing paleo! My only hope for this race is that i have been crosstraining with cycling, core, functional, and balance exercises, as well as runner related weight training! Can’t find a paleo runner’s base building,or specific training workouts anywhere!!! Where does one start??

    • Amy Kubal
      May 14, 2013 at 4:55 am

      I can help you with the food part! And Ben Greenfield would be a great option to help with the workouts.

  21. Susan
    November 9, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I am stroking a head race tomorrow morning and was looking for some rare rowing and paleo food advice. Unlike a marathon, this is a sport where you don’t have a second to goo mid-race. I suspected sweet potatoes and nuts for the morning. Thanks for the confirmation!!

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