Keto, Paleo, and Whole30: Are They Right for Athletes?

By TMHQ | October 8, 2019


With so many “new” food rules #trending, it’s easy for Mudders-in-training to get overwhelmed by what they should be doing to fuel their bodies. Three of the most popular eating plans, Keto, Paleo, and Whole30®, all have shown promise for people looking for long-term weight loss, but if you’re living an active and healthy lifestyle and just want to eat right, are they right for you? 

Never fear, Mudder Nation: We’re breaking down the basics of each diet and how they might affect your training workouts and performance on course, and where you can easily pick up diet-friendly meals.

The Keto Diet

The Basics: Following the Keto diet means restricting your daily carb intake to just five percent of your daily calories. The rest? Fats should comprise 80 percent of your diet, and protein the other 15 percent. Meat, fish, cheese, green veggies, and eggs are all allowed, but fruit, not so much. 

What It Means for Mudders in Training: If you want to try the Keto diet, be aware that you’ll probably feel very, very sluggish in your workouts for the first few weeks as your body adapts and your speed will suffer. Carbs are our most accessible source of fuel, and when you cut back on them, your legs will let you know. A small study in New Zealand found that athletes following the Keto plan felt less energetic and ran about five percent slower than those who fueled with carbs. But for ultraendurance athletes (those training for distances longer than the marathon), burning fat for long stretches is a good thing, because many people experience GI issues while taking in fuel on the run.

The Paleo Diet

The Basics: Our prehistoric ancestors didn’t run marathons; they didn’t even have shoes! So why would an endurance athlete think about following the Paleo diet? Because early humans were hunter-gatherers, which means they traveled far and wide in search of food—on their bare feet. Paleo adherents also point to the relatively recent appearance of diseases like hypertension and diabetes, and suggest that carb-rich modern diets are to blame. Like the Keto plan, a Paleo diet restricts carbs, primarily because cave dwellers hadn’t yet learned how to cultivate grains like corn and wheat. Fruits and nuts are fine, as are meat and fish, but anything packaged or processed is out. That goes for alcohol, too. No caveman margaritas, sorry!

What It Means for Mudders in Training: Eating fewer processed foods is a good idea for everybody, but it can be difficult for Mudders-in-training who are used to fueling on the go with quick fixes like energy gels and sports drinks (you know, those easy sugar/carb pick-me-ups that you need to power through the back half of the course). Nuts are a good replacement option; reach for some salted almonds when you need a mid-run carb/salt boost.

The Whole30 Eating Plan

The Basics: Of these three diets, Whole30® is the most restrictive. The good news is that it ends after 30 days! The theory is that a month without alcohol, natural and artificial sugars, grains, soy, dairy, beans, and legumes (remember how we said it was the most restrictive?) gives your GI system a bit of a rest—and teaches your body to crave whole foods. 

What It Means for Mudders in Training: Because Whole30® is likely to be a radical change (and because experts only recommend following the plan for 30 days at a time), you’ll want to pay attention to the calendar—as well as the label on everything you eat—before you dive in. The beginning of a training cycle is a good time for a fresh start, but if you’re in the middle of your longest, hardest week, you’ll probably have enough on your mind without worrying about every last molecule you eat, and no time to read up on the many, many rules of Whole30®. Plus, because it restricts carbs (read: athlete’s most accessible fuel) like the other two eating plans, you’ll feel significantly less pep in your step.

Chipotle Lifestyle Bowls

There are a few different places you can go to grab a simple meal within your eating plan, but Chipotle is definitely the most notable one. Namely, because they have options for each diet. Lifestyle Bowls are available online only, but you can always build your own when you're in store. Here's the breakdown for each:

-​Keto Lifestyle Bowl: The bowl includes romaine lettuce, carnitas, tomatillo-red chili salsa, monterey jack cheese, and guacamole. Want to switch things up? You can select any protein or tomato salsas and still be compliant. On Keto you can select queso or sour cream as an ingredient toojust don’t add all of them at once. Tempting, we know.

-Paleo Lifestyle Bowl: The bowl includes romaine lettuce, barbacoa, fajita veggies, tomatillo-green chili salsa, and guacamole. If you’re looking for a change, you can choose any protein or tomato salsas and still be compliant.

-​Whole30® Lifestyle Bowl: The bowl includes romaine lettuce, carnitas, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, and guacamole. As we mentioned, this diet is the most restrictive, so there isn’t as much flexibility to switch up your order. Only carnitas is compliant because the rest include rice bran oil—a Whole30® no-go. You’re free to go with any of the tomato salsas, though, because they’re all compliant.

All three Lifestyle bowls are packed with real ingredients, which tends to be important to most of us athletes. Plus, I can tell you from personal experience, all three of them are delicious. 

Eat Clean. Train Smart. 

No matter which eating plan you’re following, it’s important to make sure you’re being disciplined yet honest in your approach. Stick with the meals that are compliant with your plan and make sure your training regimen is appropriate for maximizing your performance, health, and results.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has real food for real athletes, including Lifestyle Bowls for Keto, Paleo, and Whole30 eating plans. Find them under “the What’s New” section on the Chipotle website when you click here.