Almost a year since letting the cat out the bag about my fancy pants Low Carb Health Fat diet (>Maybe read this first<) and with gradually more readers, friends and family asking questions I thought it time to do an update with more info and tips. Once again if low carb doesn’t fit your belief system (nutrition is very close to religion in the reactions it provokes) just press the little cross at the top left/right of your browser and we’ll get back to bike talk later. Low carb is now a lifestyle choice for me, or maybe even the choice to live?
In the last 6 months I’ve ran my first half marathon, cycled the Drenthe200, cycled my first 200km Brevet, and last week cycle/camped 260km in 34 hours. All 4 achievements pretty much unthinkable 18 months ago, but now all achievable albeit not exactly in record breaking time. During my 16 hour ride last week I felt bonk proof, a happy place endurance athletes generally can only dream about. I’m far from an athlete but my dietary changes have brought me into a world I’d long ago stopped dreaming about.
Why low carb?
Well, the low fat diet we’ve all been trying the last couple of decades is working out great right?
Image by CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES
With obesity, inflammation, Metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cancer, alzheimer, heart disease, gout, etc, etc all on the increase and all generally being treated individually by medical specialists with medicine rather than look at the bigger picture maybe its time for change?
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
Why low carb is working for me
- I now have less fat and more muscle, who doesn’t want that? (total weight change about -6kg)
- More (and stable) energy
- Brain feels sharper
- I look (except for the wrinkles), weigh, feel and perform like I did 20 years ago
- I now eat when I want or need to rather than every couple of hours after each insulin crash.
- I have more interest and energy for sport with the obvious advantages that brings
- Better recovery (less pain/stiffness/injuries)
- Better all round healthy, certainly less colds, flu than before and now I rarely have acid reflux (something I took 1-2 pills a day for)
- Eating all real/recognisable food makes more sense than processed food with added junk/grains/sugar.
- It just tastes good
- Bacon, steak, cheese, pork scratchings……
So, what is LCHF?
Copy/paste from how-a-lchf-lifestyle-changed-my-life:
Basically you cut your carbs back as far as you’re comfortable with or more importantly what your body can deal with. For some thats 100g a day, for me, I feel like superman if I stay under 50g. Most of my carbs are the ones that happen to be in vegetables or meat. I avoid pretty much all processed food and just about anything that has sugar in it (natural or processed). I also keep protein fairly low too (this is not an Atkins diet).
Naturally, low carb means low calorie, so thats where the high or healthy fat part comes in to compensate. I eat lots and lots of super tasty fat (animal fat, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, fish, greek yogurt, cheese, and glorious full fat butter is back on the table). I now have fat cravings from time to time rather than sugar cravings. Funny old thing the brain, it might actually know what the body needs and when.
The science in shorthand:
Well the theory in short is…..Carbs become sugar in your body, you get a nice blood sugar spike, your body throws some insuline in, then you crash 2 hours later and need to snack or have a meal again. You take on too much sugar (under its various names) so your body stores the excess or can’t burn off the fat because the insuline is blocking the pathways that burn fat. People choose low fat products, but if you take out the fat you need other things to make the crap taste nice….enter sugar and all kinds of chemicals which apparently are not bad for us.
Eating a high fat diet (once your body is used to it…this can take several weeks) Your body burns the fat nice and slow. So no huge peaks and because it likes burning fat it’s happy to use body fat too. So, you go from having a carb fuel tank with 2500 kcal you can access during a long ride if carb loaded or almost unlimited body fat calories and therefore still have energy after 10-12 hours and you’re bonk proof. Fat also satisfies more than carbs so once adjusted the volume of food you eat becomes less. Reducing the need for snacks, and reducing the amount of work your guts have to do to process it all (in my opinion).
What does my LCHF menu look like?
This is a rough list of what I’ve fine tuned my food to after more than a year of experimenting.
Breakfast (usually around midday) :100g bacon, 2 eggs, 50-100g (green)vegetables, cheese/butter.
Dinner (somewhere between 5-7 pm): 100-150g meat, 150-200g (green)vegetables, butter, cheese.
1st Breakfast(0530): Greek yogurt with whipped cream, Mct oil , walnuts and 30g blueberries.
2nd breakfast(9am): Home made grain free bread or 2 boiled eggs or savoury fat bomb.
Lunch(1200) : Salad with cheese/small piece of meat/fish +30ml olive oil.
Dinner (5pm)): 100-150g meat, 150-200g (green)vegetables, butter, cheese.
Nightshift : All of the above 2-4 meals a day
Drinks : Water, tea, Coffee with a combination of coconut oil/butter/mct oil/whipped cream
Bone broth: I see bone broth as a special magic supplement to any diet, full of magic minerals and fats that we once thrived on. So I make a big pan full each week and drink a cup or two a day. Its also a great way to get the extra salt you need on a low carb diet..
What are healthy fats?
In short(in my opinion): if you squeeze it and fat/oil comes out its probably good fat. Bad fats are the when they take seeds/plants and need complicated chemical processes to get it from the field to the shop. Bad=seed/vegetable oils, margarine, low fat spreads. Good = Olive oil, coconut oil, butter, saturated animal fats, nuts (oils), avocado (oil), fish, most full fat dairy and cheese (though not everyone can handle dairy).
For me the last 16 months has certainly been an interesting n=1 experiment. I’ve taken it all very serious and constantly played with my diet to see what works and what doesn’t, also experimenting with IF (intermittent fasting).
The ideal world is the menu above. Eating 200-250g of vegetables a day plus 200g meat and what ever fat I need to balance out my energy needs works well (I get hungry if I don’t eat enough fat, I feel full if I eat enough/too much…simple really). I generally have constant energy and its close to impossible to over eat, so my weight stays stable. When eating a high carb diet its easy to graze through the whole day and over eat, often constantly feeling hungry or tired. With a high healthy fat diet its almost impossible to over eat. Fat/protein are very satiating and if you eat too much fat your body solves the problem by giving you distaster pants.
From an energy point of view longer rides (up to 16 hours so far) are a
piece of cake pork chop. The recent FASTER study by Finney/Volek certainly gives an interesting insight into what is possible in fat adapted athletes. To be burning more than 1g of body fat per minute is really interesting. Imagine 500-600 Kcal per hour of internal energy, which drastically reduces the need for external sources of energy, amazing stuff really.
With this diet I can also run an hour or cycle a couple of hours after coffee in the morning and before breakfast. Yes, fasted. All of my fastest runs up to 8km have been fasted, often around 15 hours food free. This seems crazy but, the modern agricultural diet is only 10-15,000 years out of the millions in our evolution. So, when you look at it from an evolutionary(hunter/gatherer) point of view it would be crazy to think that we would be slow and pathetic if we haven’t eaten for a couple of days. Our survival once depended on being fit and smart after many days of little or no food.
I’ve experimented with fasting up to about 24 hours, on the longer ones I ended up feeling hungry for most of the next day and ate all day which kind of defeats the point. I find the optimal for me is around 15-18 hours (just skip breakfast). This is ideal to incorporate into my normal diet 1-2 days a week so I get the health benefits from a short fast and running on an empty stomach just feels good. More interestingly, above 18 hours my mind becomes super sharp, which is great for studying, reading. Though not for being social as everyone around me seems to have taken a dumb pill when I feel so sharp 🙂
Brone broth and added salt are kind of essential with this diet, most of the negative side effects people experience while low carb (headache, dizzy, constipation) are due to a shortage of salt(a combination of excreting more salt and no more added salt from processed food). Ironically recent studies in Canada are showing that a low salt diet is just as bad as a high salt diet, the trick I guess is finding the sweet spot (3-5g per day according to the study).
What doesn’t work
Obviously part of self experimenting is getting things wrong. My experiences can be divided into two categories: disaster head or disaster pants.
Yes I’m human so I fall off the wagon from time to time, yes I’m British so I like my booze from time to time. The result of either is Disaster head. The day(s) after too many carbs, i.e. a pizza(only happened twice) or an evening of too much booze result in extreme dehydration. Your body stores a lot of the carbs in your muscles as glycogen, every molecule of glycogen has 3-4 molecules of water attached to it. Therefore, all that water is getting pulled out of your system and stored, result= the hangover from hell, and if you’re really un-lucky it may take several days to get fat adapted again with all the drawbacks the adaption period has. The reverse is true when going off carbs by the way, you pea out a lot of water because your body is using up the glycogen molecules and thus dumps the water. Chaz Branham claims to use this phenomenon to cut for body building contests. For me this is about 1kg of body weight(water) that yoyo’s when I’m on or off low carb. Generally speaking now I hate constantly restarting so the temptation to booze has become less and less as the results are just not worth it. A trick to speed up the adaption process after a weekend boozing is to do a couple of days of IF (18-6) with some sport. That way I’m usually keto again in a couple of days rather than weeks.
I mentioned already that its almost impossible to over eat on fat. Your body has a very clever system to prevent you eating to much or the wrong kind of fats, its called HSSS. High Speed Shit System or Disaster pants. No explanation needed I suspect…
The grey area
Unlike our Inuit friends who probably once spent most of their lives in Ketosis, I don’t but, there are some tricks of modern technology that can help it along a little. MCT oils (medium chain triglycerides) Which is basically an oil processed from coconut oil that your liver can proces fast. I use it a little but sparingly as it doesn’t exactly fit into the category “real food” and more towards processed shit.
Another trick of modern technology is Exogenous ketones or what I call plastic ketones. They’re expensive and taste about as bad as jet fuel and can give you distaster pants. But, they do seem to work to some extent when used in moderation (clearer mind, extra energy for a couple of hours). Due to the price and “processed shit” element I rarely use them but they can be handy for exams, or in combination with a high carb meal 10 hours into a 16 hour ride 😉
Again “I’m not a scientist or nutritionalist, this is a n=1 experiment I did on myself and I like the results” and continue to like them. Once forgotten sporting dreams are once again dream able. The next The Freedom Challenge, later who knows, maybe a Marathon? or longer Brevets? Just about anything is possible now……
When I first looked into LCHF in November 2015 I came up with 4 Twitter hits, a dozen Youtube films and some blogs. Now the internet is burning with info on LCHF and keto for health and/or performance. An interesting side affect of this is the rebound from big pharma/big food in the form of bans on doctors who prescribe LCHF as a medicine (Fetke/Noakes Jennifer Elliot).
Imagine if you could cure or reduce diabetes and the obesity epidemic by just changing your food a little and missing breakfast a couple of days a week. Where’s the money in that?
Here are some handy websites for extra reading (most are free, some have a members section that may require a subscription):
- Youtube: Abel james interviews (skip the first 5 mins of each film)
- Youtube: Low carb down under
- Youtube: Jason Fung on IF
- Youtube: Peter Defty, LCHF for performance
- Vespa :Interesting approach, have no interest in the product though
- Twitter: Follow Dom the Keto Professor with regular good science updates
- Big fat surprise
- Real meal revolution
- Art and science of low carb performance
- The case against sugar
Frequently asked questions
1.You don’t eat bread?(pasta/rice/potatos)
Nope, dirty horrible filthy processed grains and starches bah!!
2. What about fruit?
Well, its better than eating M+M’s or a Mars bar as a snack but basically its still sugar. Sugar is evil, I occasionally have some black/blueberries, they have a fairly low glycemic index (especially when drowned in whipped cream and greek yogurt)
3. What about cholesterol?
4. It must be difficult to keep up that diet?
Bacon, cheese, steak, eggs, spare ribs, vegetables all with butter, coconut or olive oil. Whats difficult about such a tasty diet? Did I mention bacon?
5. It must be an expensive diet?
In theory real food is more expensive than processed crap yes. But, You eat less as a lot of calories come from calorie dense fats. You can also skip a couple of meals a week by fasting. Also, no more sugary sweat drinks, expensive beer/wine/whiskey (assuming of course you’re better at this than I am). If you buy in bulk (large(3L) olive oil/coconut oil bottles) it helps. Fattier cuts of meat are often cheaper than lean cuts. Chicken carcasses/liver/beef leg marrow are super cheap, almost waste products at my butcher and make a great bone broth soup.
But be nice…..