Thursday, December 17, 2015

Low Carb High Fat Cycling - A One-Year Snapshot

It's been now one full year since I basically stopped eating carbohydrates.

I did it because I read enough convincing evidence that carbohydrate was not essential to the human body, and that reverting to our pre-carbohydrate metabolic state was not only the best health option, but also a serious performance edge as an endurance athlete.

I go out for any duration of ride now without taking anything but water with me. I have no need to ingest anything for my immediate fuel needs as I have a supply in my fat cells that will last me for days. I eat if I'm hungry. I never run out of fuel. For me it's a no-brainer.

It seems so much a part of my life to eat the way I do now, that I sometimes forget how radical this appears to most of the rest of the human race. A year ago it was a ferocious awareness - outrage even. I thought I was on the crest of a wave that would change the world.


Once I started to dig into the science and piece together the evolution of how we all ended up hurtling down a dietary dead-end highway, I became possessed with evangelistic determination to spread the word, to rid the world of obesity, diabetes and all the other diseases of civilization. I quickly realised however that nobody wants to know, and that I'd have no friends if I kept going.  The party-pooper; the prophet of doom. Now, apart from my posts here, I go quietly about my day, and it only really surfaces sometimes when I'm eating with friends.

But this IS vital information. It is unfathomable, unthinkable... unforgivable that we have been steered like lemmings onto a path of self-destruction. But hey sorry, it's fun, haha. Have some more cake. We'll work it off in the morning.


The other day a friend asked me why I was eating like this, rather like the way you might ask someone why they sleep on a bed of nails. I replied jokingly that it was just the science nerd in me experimenting on myself. The question caught me a bit off-guard, but I decided it was time to give a run-down of my many epiphanies since I adapted my body to a LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet.

To borrow a term from Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek used in their excellent manual for the LCHF athlete: The Art And Science Of Low Carbohydrate Performance - the following is a "snapshot" of what being in the state of Nutritional Ketosis has done for me, and why I will never go back:

  • My energy does not fluctuate.
  • I maintain a healthy weight (low body fat) without thought or effort.
  • My mental focus is constant.
  • I can keep going during long working days without feeling tired (and then go for a run!).
  • I don't get lower back or other postural pains from hours of standing or walking.
  • I can train harder for sport.
  • I recover faster from hard training.
  • I can cycle for hours without needing anything but water.
  • I sleep better.
  • I get hungry much less when inactive.
  • Even if I'm very hungry it is never accompanied by feelings of weakness or anxiety.
  • If I didn't eat all day it wouldn't affect my energy levels.
  • My hair is fuller and darker.
  • My skin and eyes are clearer.
  • My muscle tone maintains itself better without training.
  • My teeth suffer much less from the food I eat.
  • Most of the aches and pains I'd accepted as symptoms of aging, have gone.

I've written about my journey of discovery in stages (see links below), so if you want to know more please follow the links. I'll let the above list speak for itself as my latest update. I intend to do some more scientific testing soon. Before I started I wasn't overweight, nor did I have any particular health issues, or challenges in training for the sports that I do.

I was intrigued by what some other endurance athletes were claiming about training their bodies to efficiently use the aerobic, fat-burning pathway through carbohydrate limitation, and as I started to read about LCHF diets and supporting science (in particular the writings of Tim Noakes, Gary Taubes, Steven Phinney and Jeff Volek), it just made too much sense to dismiss. I began to see this as it is: a major breakthrough in the thinking behind fueling the human body. Within a couple of weeks of starting the diet I had dropped from 76kg, which I then considered lean, to around 72kg, where I stayed for quite a while before deliberately working it up to around 73-74kg where it is now (my wife complained I was too skinny!)..

The entire way of thinking behind sport nutrition that has obsessed us for at least the past 50 years is based on the discovery of glycogen and it's role in muscular performance in (carbohydrate-dependent) athletes, and the subsequent obsession with optimizing carbohydrate intake to maximize glycogen stores. In our excitement we then completely forgot that we hadn't really investigated what a body might do if it was properly adapted to using fat as a fuel.

It's linear thinking at it's worst. Sugar works fast - at every level. It's quickly into our bodies, quick to provoke hormonal responses - or performance benefits - and quickly spent. We became obsessed with speed. Then we became obsessed with the allure of extending these speed benefits for endurance events - running marathons on jet fuel - wow! Though burning glycogen is ideal only for short, intense, anaerobic bursts of activity, we've spent billions of brain-cells on figuring out how to make it last longer... go figure! The net result was that instead of focusing nutritional science on adapting the body to efficiently use the abundant supply of energy-rich fuel it carries (fat) at higher intensities, we lost the plot in the folly of pursuing the easy-come-easy-go, fast-burning fuel (sugar) in the belief that we could somehow make pigs fly.

Now, the average endurance athlete has to meticulously micro-manage their fueling strategy for any longer training session or race in order that they don't crash and burn. Again, it's a multi-billion dollar industry providing gels, bars, drink mixes and supplements, so there are some real vested interests in making sure nobody realises that they don't need any of this shit.

I'm 57 now. I Yet I feel better than I've ever felt. If I'd discovered this when I was in my twenties...or much more could i have achieved in my life. Not just in sport; the amount of energy I have throughout a day is incredible.

How much of my physical, mental, neurological... optical deterioration could have been avoided without the constant yo-yoing of hormonal surges racking my body due to poor fueling procedures. I had been convinced for a while that I was lactose intolerant. Something wasn't right and things seemed to run better without milk. Now I almost live on milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter and cream. It was actually all the innocuous-seeming, easy-to-digest stuff that was wrong all along.

So yes, it's easy for me to say that I'll stay with this one. I never want to go back to feeling like I did before, even though I miss some elements of the food sometimes. I still enjoy a glass or two of dry red wine, and after long hard rides I sometimes allow myself a slice of really good bread - there's no chance of a major insulin surge when the body's working so hard to repair itself. That's another perk of the long-distance cyclist.

Older posts on LCHF:

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