The low carb Paleo diet is soaring among NBA superstars from LeBron James to Ray Allen to Dwayne Wade. James recently made headlines after debuting his shocking weight loss on a low carb, sugar-free diet.
While LeBron has not stated which diet he followed, ketogenic diet expert Dr. Jeff Volek told Sports Illustrated James appears to have slimmed down on a low carb, high-fat ketogenic-style diet that forced his body to burn fat for fuel.
Volek, a professor at Ohio State University, said more athletes are now favoring low carb, high-fat diets such as the Paleo and ketogenic plans to lose weight fast and dramatically change their body fat composition.
LeBron was reportedly inspired to go low carb after seeing the dramatic health transformation experienced by his former Miami Heat teammate Ray Allen, who adopted the Paleo diet in the summer of 2013.
Allen, 39, came back from the summer off-season break in significantly better shape than he was the previous year after adopting a sugar-free Paleo diet. Ray promptly lost 10 pounds after going Paleo.
While weight loss was not Allen's goal when he started the Paleo diet, he said the diet gave him better stamina and dramatically improved his post-workout recovery. Ray's health turnaround motivated his Miami Heat teammate Dwayne Wade to adopt the low carb Paleo diet. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Steve Nash are also recent Paleo converts.
The Paleo diet emphasizes high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, and excludes gluten, sugar, dairy, legumes, alcohol and processed foods.
Research suggests the Paleo diet accelerates weight loss, prevents cancer, diabetes and heart disease. TV star Jack Osbourne (the son of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne) credits the Paleo diet for his 70-pound weight loss and for treating his multiple sclerosis.
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, a close friend of LeBron James, recently debuted his own dramatic weight loss on a low-carb diet.
Retired Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller told TMZ LeBron and Carmelo's weight loss will prolong their NBA careers and preserve their aging bodies.
“This is to prolong their careers," said Miller. "When you carry too much weight it shortens the longevity of a basketball player, especially in the later years. You saw what happened to LeBron during the finals – the cramping. I guarantee he won’t have these issues now that he’s lost weight. Their game will not be affected, they will just feel lighter."
Because athletes have historically followed high-carb diets, sports scientists said the recent shift toward low-carb diets represents a major paradigm shift. "This is the world turned upside down," said Volek. "It is the completely opposite paradigm."
While conventional wisdom had preached that athletes should follow high-carb, low-fat diets, Volek said the tide is turning as athletes are realizing that low carb, high-fat diets such as the Paleo and ketogenic diets can enhance stamina, boost performance and aid post-workout recovery.
Even endurance athletes such as long-distance runners, cyclists and triathletes are beginning to embrace the low-carb Paleo and ketogenic diets for mental as well as physical benefits.
“There are benefits related to recovery and even cognition and mental clarity [for athletes]," said Volek. "The brain is very efficient at using ketones as a stable fuel source.”
The health benefits of the low carb, high-fat ketogenic diet extend beyond weight loss and athletic performance, obesity expert Dr. Eric Westman wrote in the book Keto Clarity.
The ketogenic diet has been shown to reduce epileptic seizures in children who don't respond to drugs, reverse type 2 diabetes, and prevent Alzheimer's disease and cancer.