The Paleo Diet has become popular among athletes; as an early adopter I’m very pleased. However, other than a bit of salmon, shrimp or tuna, most people are missing out on half the diet, thus half the advantages. Undoubtedly, the first humans spent most of their time living near sea or lakeshores, and as they migrated they followed the water. (There’s a reasonable chance that everyone alive today descended from a small group living in coastal South Africa.) A true Paleo Diet features abundant microalgae, macroalgae (“seaweed”), fish, shellfish, krill, and even sponges and fungi.
Life arose in the sea and has thrived there for almost three billion years. Thousands of unique biochemicals are exclusive to marine organisms. Some are familiar with respect to sports nutrition: DHA, EPA, chondroitin, astaxanthin and other carotenoids, and Chlorella. Mainly antinflammatory and antioxidant, everybody hypothesizes they’re helpful for athletes, but when individual natural products are tested on trained athletes, the effects on performance enhancement are usually minimal or nonexistent. Why?
The effect of the “marine half” of the Paleo Diet is so profound that it transcends whether a Tour de France rider can shave 10 seconds off a race leg with seaweed supplements. It is not about performance enhancement of trained athletes. It’s about growing a child into a superstar. It’s about teaching a 65-year-old man to kite surf. Marine superfoods operate at the fundamental level of cell signaling, both within and among cells. This signaling system starts with visualization of complex sport performances like figure skating, balance beam, World Cup ski racing, swimming 400 individual medley, then translates them into reality, one training step at a time.
Train Through the Pain. Fish oil is antiflammatory and promotes cardiovascular health on one level, but on another level it actively reduces pain by stimulating the release of our natural opiate-like peptides. DHA is also absolutely required for the growth of neurons and the interconnections between them. Complex sports require linking small, specific movements/positions with countless repetitions until the entire action “flows.” Intense pain interrupts the linkage; further, low DHA results in a reduced ability to form neurons/interconnections, therefore the resulting action can’t progress beyond “jerky amateurish.”
Eye-Hand Coordination. Most edible marine algae such as Dunaliella salina synthesize more carotenoids in few tablespoons than you get in 20 salads. Two carotenoids in particular—lutein and zeaxanthin—are taken up by the brain and retina. Lutein and zeaxanthin make up the yellow pigment in the macula, part of the retina that contains color detection cells which absorb blue light. Lutein/zeaxanthin deficiency causes macular degeneration, resulting in central blindness. Remarkably, older persons with lutein/zeaxanthin deficiency and macular degeneration invariably have increased levels of cognitive impairment, especially visual-spatial constructional abilities. Pediatric brains have double the lutein that adult brains have, indicating its vital importance in linking vision to body movements. And there are a hundred more carotenoids in edible marine organisms that we haven’t begun to investigate.
Protein Power. Modern vegan diets are not Paleo Diets. They are dependent on modern horticulture, agriculture, and food processing to wring complete protein out of soybeans, rice, wheat etc. They were never the basis for building humanity. However some microalgae, cyanobacteria, and red and green macroalgae contain abundant complete protein; also EPA, iodine, calcium, iron, copper, zinc—which are rare/nonexistent in terrestrial plant foods. Nori seaweed has vitamin B12 and numerous marine microorganisms contain DHA. Paleo-vegan probably meant “lousy fisherman,” but marine plants as part of a balanced diet have always fueled performance.