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Former gymnast scores with Paleo diet and CrossFit: Low-carb ketogenic perks

CrossFit plus Paleo equals power.
CrossFit plus Paleo equals power.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Gretchen Kittelberger was once a slender gymnast whose lightweight frame played a key role in her success. Now, however, she's combining a Paleo diet and CrossFit to show off her muscle after qualifying for the CrossFit Games, reported the Baltimore Sun on July 19.

After five years transforming her body with CrossFit and a Paleo low carb diet, Kittelberger views the intense exercise program as an essential part of her life. But she admits the combination of strength-training, conditioning and cardio work isn't easy.

"You feel like you want to just lie on the ground and not move," Kittelberger admitted after a two-hour workout. However, she definitely feels that it's worth it after winning the Mid-Atlantic regional event in order to qualify for the CrossFit Games.

For the fourth time, the former gymnast will be doing squats with 200-pound weights rather than using her own body weight to perform flips on a balance beam. She marvels at how her body has changed.

"I can remember, when I first started, it being hard to clean 100 pounds," Kittelberger said. "Today … my clean and jerk is, like, over 200 pounds."

And to perform the move called a "clean and jerk," she has to make sure to eat clean as well. "I eat quality foods but don't measure the amount," she says in her CrossFit bio. "I eat 1-3 full cheat meals per week."

As defined by the official CrossFit nutrition guidelines, eating clean is based on the low carb Paleo diet. "Base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar."

Why the Paleo diet? "Modern diets are ill suited for our genetic composition. Evolution has not kept pace with advances in agriculture and food processing resulting in a plague of health problems for modern man."

But the Paleo and other types of low carb diets aren't just for exercisers. New studies have shown that low carb plans can boost weight loss while satisfying hunger.

One reason may be that low carb diets contain protein, which make dieters feel full on less food. Protein such as steak provides the taste known as umami. Researchers found that when dieters eat foods with umami, they feel more satisfied, reported Time magazine on July 21.

Study participants consumed either a high-protein soup with an MSG-enzyme combination that mimicked the taste of umami or a soup without the added flavoring. Researchers found that because the flavoring satisfied the appetite, dieters consumed less food.

As for the question of whether athletes such as Kittelberger can do well on a diet high in protein and restricted in carbohydrates, Dr. Stephen Phinney has conducted numerous studies showing the benefits of using fat and protein rather than carbs for energy. In an exclusive interview, he stated, "The concept that humans 'need a certain amount of dietary carbs for proper function of the body' has no basis in science. It is a myth perpetuated by the USDA and the dietetic establishment."

His research demonstrated the potential for improved performance for keto-adapted athletes. In doing so, he challenged the standard convention of carb-loading for athletes.

He and Dr. Jeff Volek have authored a book containing their research and studies on high fat low carb diets for athletes: "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance." He notes that individual athletes continue to prove the merits of ketogenic diets. Example: "Low carb athlete Sami Inkinen at age 39 recently won the Wildflower Triathlon against a field of almost 1500."

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