The merits of a Low Carb Healthy Fat diet for cycle touring.
Note 1 : If you’re totally convinced that you need carbs for sport and blindly follow government guide lines on diet and ” Science” and have no intentions of entertaining a different theory, you may want to quickly leave and save yourself some time. If you have Lypophobia (fear of fat) or you’re a serial dieter with diet burn out, this post may not be for you.
Note 2 : (Nutritional)Science is 50% wrong, its just a question of time before we find out which 50%. Once upon a time leading scientists in their field thought that the world was flat and that the sun rotated around the world.
Note 3 : I’m not a scientist or nutritionalist, this is a n=1 experiment I did on myself and I like the results.
So, like most people I got half a kilo heavier each year after my 30th birthday, despite eating a ” healthy” diet. Thats the life we have right? Last year was the icing on the cake when I put on 5kg during a 6 week course (mainly thanks to beer and pizza).
-In 2009 I cycled almost 6000km across America in 10 weeks and didn’t loose any weight….Strange
-In 2012 I cycled 11000km across Africa and got fatter…..Strange.
-When I eat a “healthy” breakfast of muesli with fruit, milk and low fat yogurt I’m hungry an hour later……Strange
-If I eat half a dozen slices of bread for lunch, I’m hungry 2 hours later…Strange
-If I have a huge pasta or potato meal for dinner, I’m hungry 2 hours later….You get the picture.
I’ve been fit and eating healthy for years, but generally feeling tired and not getting any younger or thinner. In November 2015 I was desperate for something to change in my life to give me more energy and motivation. Luckily I stumbled on one line of a friends blog that said he’d lost 9kg on an LCHF diet while training for the Freedom Challenge and was feeling much better for it. Johann is a persons who’s opinion I value and someone that wouldn’t just follow any bullshit diet….I was intrigued (and thinking about training for the Freedom Challenge).
24 hours later I’d burned my modem out watching endless Youtube speeches on the subject. For me it was one of the few Eureka moments in my life and the whole LCHF theory made perfect sense. It also seems that most modern diet advise is based on some #%*# fiddling his statistics, to back up his flawed theory (Ancel Keys and his 7 country study) and some rich people that wanted to get richer….imagine that.
(Start watching at about minute 7:00)
The next morning it was December 1st and I went low carb high fat, and haven’t looked back since. For me its not a diet, its a complete new outlook on life and nutrition. Plus a wake up call to how corrupt science, governments and big pharma is.
Why I like it :
-I dropped almost 1kg of weight per week for the first six weeks (while eating 3000+ calories a day), then still lost 1 kilo per month since I started drinking beer again. I had already lost the 5kg put on during the course during the summer, bringing me back to 84kg, I’m now a much healthier 77kg with just enough fat left to drop 1 or 2 more kg should my body find that necessary. But I’m now pretty much in balance and experimenting. So, I’m now 12kg lighter than when I finished the course 11 months ago. It’s no rocket science to know that makes a difference.
-My energy level was once a rollercoaster of peeks after eating then crashing soon after that and generally low in energy and feeling tired (shift work doesn’t help of course). Now I have a constant energy flow the whole day long. Even on days that I’ve slept short or bad I just plough through without energy issues instead of fighting all day long.
-My brain feels sharper and more alert.
-Recovery after training is much quicker.
-Working shifts is less of a problem now.
-The stable energy flow means I often still have energy after work to go for ride or run, which can’t be a bad thing.
-The heartburn/ acid reflux that I’ve been taking medicine for the last 20 years stopped within a week. I later googled this aspect I suspect its down to bread/wheat/gluten (who knows). It turns out that unlike cows, we only have one stomach and really shouldn’t be eating grass seeds.
-When ketogenic (nutritional ketosis) I’m totally bonk (hitting the wall as runners call it) proof, I can ride endlessly, running largely on body fat (or placebo effect). Examples of this are the night on a mountain in Scotland : a night on a mountain in Spain : a monster day cycling in Spain. All three of these would of been almost impossible for me 6 months ago, now I took them in my stride finishing the day still having energy and continued the next day without problems.
More energy means more cycling and running and being more productive at home and this of course snow balls into losing more weight and feeling more energy. In 3 months I went from feeling tired and lethargic to almost being hyperactive, something I’ve never been. I haven’t felt so good or been so light this side of the millennium. Meaning I’m once again dreaming up ideas like running a marathon, a dream that died long ago, I’ve always had an interest in endurance sports, now its looking like I could take part in them too…..Not only that, the fact that I have energy left after work and a sharper mind also means I’m considering evening school or similar to start on a long overdue degree…
So, what is LCHF?
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). My main weekly carb intake is a couple of beers or wine when I have a weekend off and screw my diet up.
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 its 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). The fact that I no longer give birth to a half kilo baby every morning but instead a tiny floater a sure sign that my guts don’t have to work as hard!
So, in my opinion perfect for tour cyclists that want to spent 8 or more hours a day in the saddle.
Whats the down side?
I had a stinking headache the first three days off the carbs, the right hand front quarter of my brain felt numb and painful. Obviously my brain didn’t like going sugar cold turkey.
Eating real food rather than processed junk does cost more time in preparation and planning, and I really miss the convenience of taking sandwiches to work. On a plus side I now have more energy for the planning an preparation.
Anyone born in the 70’s or later may have trouble getting used to the idea of eating fats, we’ve been fed the cholesterol lie for our whole lives.
It takes at least 3 weeks for your body to get into it, good luck with that :).
Sometimes you have really bad breath(so I’m told by my ex girlfriend). I’m still not sure if this is the ketones or the days when you eat too much protein….Not a lot of info online about that….
Despite what the pro LCHF people say I find that the first 20 minutes of a serious ride or run I’m defiantly slower than I used to be when eating carbs (commuting is no difference). The next hour riding is about the same as on carbs. On fat though I can cycle for ever, on carbs I die after a couple of hours. Last month I did my first 1 hour plus run since 1997 though.
You may only want or need to eat twice a day on some days, this can cause trouble at home if your partner wants to eat at set traditional times. Eating when your body needs to rather than at the set times our modern life dictates is a bit of a logistics nightmare.
You may get so much energy and interest in new hobbies that you won’t have time for your partner any more…..be warned…
I like beer and wine, they don’t mix with LCHF, when I do drink I now get an alcohol hangover and also a carb hangover….No fun.
There’s a reasonable chance that a whole food, real food diet will be more expensive than “normal eating” .
As I discovered in Spain it can be difficult to maintain a LCHF on the road. This will seriously influence my choices for future trips.
Further reading :
I really recommend this book “The big fat Surprise” (Nina Teicholz) which pulls apart the science of the modern diet. An excellent piece of journalism.
I also love this book ” The real meal revolution “ (Sally-Ann Creed,Tim Noakes, Jonno Proudfoot) which gives simple guidelines to follow a LCHF or ” Banting” diet and the history lesson by Tim Noakes at the back is a great read. (Yes, this latest fad diet was in fact conceived in 1863….)
This book is also good ” The art and Science of low carb living “(Dr. Jeff Volek, Dr. Steven Phinney) But, you can just save yourself some money and watch these 3 Youtube films……Steve Finney gives away all the good tips that are in the book during the 3 presentations…… I also recommend watching all 3 videos before starting a LCHF diet. The info in these films about which fats are good is also very important!!
Also check out the other Youtube films from the Low carb down under channel.
Still not convinced? Then watch the film Cereal killers 2
Should you decide to try a banting diet, consider making a 7 day free account at Realmealrevolution.com they have lots of good info and food lists for beginners.
For me the test case was my recent trip to Spain, cycling similar terrein as last years Spain trip. This year I started fitter and lighter thanks to my diet so its difficult to give a fair comparison. But, I cycled 20-30km more each day than last year, took less rest days and felt better. Until of course I started eating bread and drinking beer again in the last week. Then I crashed and burned and struggle to finish each day……
I think most diets are like religion, some get followed quietly by the masses, some have people that get so fanatical that they want to preach to the world. I look and feel amazing since going LCHF and recommend you try it for a couple of weeks and decided for yourself.
Please no ranting or negative comments, watch the films by the professionals, draw your own conclusions and make your own choices. But by the way, fat just tastes good, this is what I eat for breakfast on a day off work 🙂
End of sermon….