March 8, 2012

Carbohydrate Intolerance

This week I have had the pleasure of traveling with Prof. Tim Noakes, who recently has gone a full 180 degrees on carbohydrates and what we should be consuming. This is a man who has challenged beliefs and written incredible papers that have changed the way we go about exercise around the world. The man is filled with vitality, energy and seems to be happier than ever. He is running faster than he did 20 years ago as well, for what it’s worth. His secret?

Cut carbs. Almost entirely. No bread, no potatoes, no pasta… (sigh)

He`ll tell you to rip the chapter on nutrition out of Lore of Running. What they believed 10 years ago is not what they believe now and it takes a big man to stand up in front of the whole world and say “We made mistakes”.

So this no carbohydrate thing, is also known as Paleo, Atkins, etc. It’s not new news. The problem is that it messes with every piece of conventional wisdom out there and flies in the face of a large percentage of the advertising that pays for magazines and TV to be around. Really, if cereals, snacks, cold drinks and pizza/pasta/rice was cut from the advertising budget in many publications, what would be left? So the industries that employ thousands and make millions have said he is talking rubbish.

Another note is to say that if we all switched to eating twice or three times as much meat, would there be enough meat on the planet?

Personally, as a cold-hearted realist I would say we got ourselves into this mess, but I am only speaking to around 30 000 of you on this blog, so let us be the informed few who make the change towards better lives.

There are a few good articles out there on this, so let’s put some links up to those for you get a bit of background on this:

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Do I hear you say WHOOOOAAAA?

In order to give you a bit of background on other low carb diets, let’s give you some more links…

Paleo versus Atkins.

Paleo versus Other Low Carb Diets.

Paleo versus Primal versus Atkins.

Really, it may be a never ending debate, but we are not here to get into the politics. As someone interested in finding every edge, and feeling something was drastically wrong, in 2008 I switched to something in this line of eating/thinking. I cut wheat, dairy (90%) and sugar out of my diet. This left me with wheat-free muesli in the mornings, meat & veg for the rest of the day. I cut out all protein shakes, I moved to regular sleep and training in a more sensible manner (basically off the 4 pillars of aerobic capacity, recovery, nutrition and strength).

The result was I lost 8kg and qualified for Kona, dropping 62 minutes at Ironman that year. It took me 12 weeks and changed my life. Easy peasy.

I have maintained that style of eating, sometimes being a bit more stringent whilst at other times being quite focused on making sure I am putting no rubbish into the body so that I can recovery as decently as possible, session-to-session, when the sessions are high.

But I was carbohydrate intolerant. I did a period very similar to the Maffetone 2 Week Test and it was easy to see I had Carbohydrate Intolerance. Since then, my mom has tested to be a Type 2 Diabetic, which is a sure-fire sign that I was heading in the same direction. Prof Noakes had the same experience. Just because you are fit does not mean you are healthy.

The results? I have been to a GP once in 5 years, have had zero real injuries since and most significantly, my intake of calories during training and races has become significantly reduced. I would guess it has a scientific explanation, and I will endure to find that information, but for now, I am consuming about 30% less during rides and runs, which means the body can work more on performance than breaking down food. It’s a simple win-win.

But what does it all mean?

If you are carbohydrate intolerant (do the test or simply know that if either of your folks are obese or diabetic then you most likely are) then you should be focusing on eating the right way. The right way for me has no “diet” name attached. It simply means:

1. High Protein – meat, beans, eggs, etc.
2. High Fat – avo, nuts, etc and worth noting that you are aiming for Omega 3 and that Omega 6 is the bad one (which is in all vegetable fats).
3. Quality Carbohydrates – fruit, veggies, quinoa.

We are avoiding insulin spikes and controlling intolerance. It’s not rocket science. It’s not a tickling competition. It’s the rest of your life and being able to live without discomfort or disease.

If it’s too hard, then maybe being sluggish, overweight, bloated and never achieving your athletic goals is simply not for you. Life habits are tough to change but worth every penny when you do.

Make the right choices. Check your intolerance levels and shoot for the stars.


An Update: Tim Noakes published a great article on all this yesterday, so read it HERE

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