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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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: