The Paleo Diet for Improved Athletic Performance

By: D. Levi Harrison, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon/Fitness Expert


The Paleo diet has been associated with extensive controversy and drama over the past decade due to the confounding research and opinions of authors, doctors and athletes. As an orthopedic surgeon and fitness expert, it is appropriate that I share my findings and correlated associations that I have noted with patients and athletes who use the Paleo diet. I will also discuss my personal success regarding the use and advocacy of the Paleo diet.

The basics of the Paleo diet are quite simple. Eat clean and eat well. The Paleo diet recommends eating a diet that is based on the Paleolithic Age, when food was hunted, gathered and foraged by our ancestors. They did not forage for pastries, donuts and potato chips but rather for the true unadulterated fruits of the earth and sea. Their diet consisted of foods that were non-processed, dye-fee, hormone-free, and nutrient rich. Their food sources were free-range, vitamin rich and life giving. The Paleo food groups consist of the following:

  • Lean meats
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Healthy Fats

This way of eating is naturally devoid of high concentrations of sugar, salt, dyes, dairy, preservatives, gluten and grains. Because these foods have rich nutrients, phytochemicals and mineral profiles, they can increase the body’s ability to become stronger, healthier and more ready to express improved physiologic and athletic performance. These fresh food groups are better for our bodies because of their ability to provide antioxidants, energy and the potential to improve the immune system, decrease inflammation (especially gastric), improve digestion, restore natural gastric flora, improve metabolic panels and cognitive function. The Paleo diet substantially reduces the intake of processed foods, sugar, salt, refined foods, saturated/trans fats, and white flour.

Diets that have high amounts of sugar/salt-filled, low quality, nutrient deficient, highly processed fatty foods can be associated with diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and digestive/bowel disorders. The Paleo diet can help to improve your energy and health by providing you with highly nutritious, life giving foods.

With respect to athletic performance, eating fresh, nutrient and mineral rich foods can assist with quicker recovery during training as well as after an athletic competition. Essentially, the nutritional components of the Paleo diet provides energy and muscle building for the body, along with the potential to strengthen the immune system and improve overall energy and well-being.

As a practicing orthopedic surgeon and fitness expert, I often remind athletes and patients that, “You are what you eat and you are what you think.” It is imperative to eat and think like a champion! The Paleo diet can improve ones opportunity for success athletically by eating foods that are fresh, lean, rich in Omega-3 fats and free of highly processed sugars, fat, dairy, dyes, chemicals, hormones or salt.

The Paleo diet has the potential to provide the following athletic and physiologic benefits:

  • Improved muscle recovery after training
  • Improved digestion, which allows the absorption of essential nutrients
  • Improved glucose control
  • Improved LDL/HDL triglyceride profiles
  • Improved cognitive abilities

Patients that have started a structured Paleo diet often return to my office stating the following:

“Dr. Levi, I am running farther and better.”

“My workouts are stronger and more intense.”

“I can think more clearly.”

“My gastric problems have improved.”

“I feel better overall.”

“My actions per minute have been off the charts when gaming.”

“My recovery and stamina are much improved now!”

“I no longer have chronic rashes.”

“My rheumatoid arthritis is less painful.”

Personally, I have been on a Paleo-like diet for almost twenty years. I have found that, not only has my athletic performance improved, but also I no longer have asthma. As a teenager, I used an inhaler to control my asthma; however, after removing gluten and dairy from my diet and focusing on Paleo living, my whole body recalibrated itself and my lungs are healthy.

As an avid kick-boxing/conditioning coach, cross-training/cross-fit athlete, the Paleo diet simply gives me the fuel to run and maintain a fit, healthy body.

It is clear to me that there are great advantages to using a moderate, balanced Paleo diet to improve overall health and to attain superior athletic performance. My basic Paleo rule is simply to eat fresh, clean, vitamin and mineral rich foods that provide healthy Omega-3 fats and phytonutrients, which translates into the potential for better digestion, better immune function and improved athletic recovery and performance.











D. Levi Harrison, MD

The Paleo Diet for Improved Athletic Performance Copyright©2014 by D. Levi Harrison, MD


Categories: Athletic Performance, General


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. Lynne says

    I am curious to learn your opinion on beans. You say you have been on a “Paleo-like diet” for years, so I am wondering what deviations you have made and why.

    I did a paleo challenge last year and felt great, lost weight, etc but I didn’t feel right eating that much meat – it’s ecologically unsustainable, makes the diet an option only for priviledged people, requires animals to die, is only affordable to me if I eat factory-farmed meat, etc.

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