Follow up blog to Part 1, Diet - what they don't tell you!
Let's start by saying this is my personal opinion, influenced by personal experience and observation. Experience and what works in practical terms, for the general rank and file of our followers. All of our training is based on the individual wherever possible, but on a blog these generalizations cover a wider spectrum. So please don't sit there at the ready with a computer to try and catch me out, as you can send a post to either show how smart you are to use a computer or to be a gotcha troll. Why? You are wasting our time and might be preventing someone from learning something. On with the blog.
I think the best way is to breakdown the diets in three general categories, and give the opinion on each that I would give to my squad members. The categories -
As our last blog was on the new true carnivore style diet, that has been around for about 40,000 years let's finish that off by going over the other variants of the low carb restricted diets. We talked about a new caveman diet that has also been around for thousands of years, so let's start closer to now.
The Atkins diet
Around in the 80s, this was a high protein, high fat diet.
This diet is very similar to the Atkins diet. High in fat and protein. Its intention to lower blood sugar levels and insulin levels.
This again relies on restricting carbs. There are many variants of this, with the extreme being to eat only cream for a specific (limited) period of time.
I have self experimented with all of the above. My opinion is all if done with discipline will lose weight in the short term. However, our goal is not to lose weight, but to increase performance. Yes, I do know that once the body is adapted to any diet, or to an extreme change to the previous way of eating you can perform endurance sports with a lot fewer ingested calories consumed per hour. The idea is to change the body to produce energy for prolonged exercise by using fat as the fuel rather than carbs. Thus the body becomes a fat burning machine, feeding itself more by what the body has rather than what is put in.
Does it work?
Well yes and no!
If you are a complete zealot with incredible self discipline it can be super effective.
Is it healthy?
I'm not going to claim it is as I have no legitimacy to say so. I can say, I think that supplements are essential for vitamins not carried by these non vegetable and fruits regimes. Also I can say that the body composition tends to be less cut visually.
The downside is to make these diets work, they must be so strict that it is highly unlikely in our society that one can continue for the long term duration. Any carbs sneaking their way into the program might still allow weight loss, but It does hinder performance because adaption and delivery of energy is compromised. The body gets trapped in between the delivery systems. In a race situation we might be limiting calorie intake but still needing some more calories per hour to compensate as we are not a full 100% fat burner. It is very easy to destable the switch from full fat burner mode by only 24 to 48 hours of exposure to carbs.
Let's move to the meat abstination diets.
Abstaining from meat products fully. Using vegetables, fruits, nuts seeds, eggs, dairy products and the use of honey instead of sugar. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism.
Is similar to the above but without any animal products at all.
The above two eating styles are both legitimate lifestyle diets.
Again we are about sports performance. Much has been brought to the for with documentaries on the benefits of 'plant based diets' for the modern age. For some it can be of great benefit, what we need to question is how we can provide enough protein and iron to deliver both recovery from muscle breakdown through training and racing. Proponents suggest protein is garnered through nuts, beans, seeds, legumes, chickpeas, lentils. Iron is replenished by dark green leafy vegetables.
I have no personal experience with either of the eating protocols. What I would say is from watching athletes in hard training, they tend to tire more quickly, and recover slower from both training and racing. I have also observed recovery from sickness is slower. Now, I have no documentation of this, and it is not the debate that I would put myself on the cross for. However, I am very aware that athletes can have objections to eating from the slaughtering of animals. I respect that completely, but I still try to advise at least the partaking of fish, as a compromise. Not just for protein levels but also for the intake of omega oils that provide good fats to supplement the high consumption of vegetables and fruits.
On supplements we advise blood tests are a must to follow their iron levels. Those that want to follow this lifestyle my advice has always been iron supplements are nearly a requirement to be added.
Next, the Paleo diet
This diet is sold as a step higher than the cavemen diet, using leaner meats, nuts, seeds, fruits and the addition of vegetables. Taking the carbs through natural substances within the vegetables and fruits. Does it provide enough? That is my question, to compensate for the huge calorie increase from normal sedentary life.
The 'healthy' eating pyramid
This has been forced on us through our health departments over the last 40 years. Where the bulk of our calories are provided by predominantly carbohydrates. Performance wise, I just don't think it delivers enough protein and fat. See the chart for the break downs
This diet is about low fat and high fibre. It was developed as primarily a health aid to a better lifestyle while protecting from heart disease and secondarily as a weight loss program. As I have said before, I'm talking about sports performance, I don't doubt its long term health benefits. Is it the best way to perform long time related sports performance?
Last but not least the Zone diet
This is also known as the 40 / 30 / 30 diet.
I left it to last for one reason. It is what I advise to most of my athletes if asked for an opinion. Why?
Basically, the 'keep it simple sutto' method.
In our day and age of food consumption it is the easiest to follow with the minimum amount of organisation. Other than what some genetically lucky people can do - eat what they want and then burn it off while not worrying about the discipline necessary of their other eating habits. Please don't argue, we all have seen these people and roll our eyes. Michael Phelps' book horrified many when he said he eats 8000 calories a day, and asked for his breakdown 'anything i can get my hands on. I'm just hungry!'
I personally watched an Olympic gold medal winner who ate nothing but McDonalds. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. No I'm not advocating it, just as another Olympic Champion in another sport ate KFC at least once a day. For how long? 'I don't know, so long I can't remember'. But what do you eat to get ready for your racing? 'Well I had three pieces of KFC 2 hours before I got this gold medal'. I kid you not. Are they anomalies? Certainly, but it does happen.
I've kept this blog sensible and real for a reason. We all would like a little help, that's why I go for the 40 / 30 / 30. It provides enough carbs to train, with the help of fats. It delivers enough protein for full muscle recovery. If one takes the bulk of the protein in red meat it provides a stable base to have good iron levels on a daily basis.
Now this is important - while some of these extreme methods may show superior outcomes on paper, the risk management that I factor in to all our triathlon decisions doesn't allow me to send anyone into an Ironman on 100 to 200 calories per hour in their race kit. If for any reason they have a problem, the race is over and they are doing that death march in the last part of the run.
It has been my observation of 40+ years that this 40 / 30 / 30 type of diet can be followed for very long periods of time. I'm not going into the intricate detail to persuade you of superior knowledge. We all have the ability to now hit the enter button on our computer or our mobile phone, but I will point out the great Mark Allen was a proponent of this method. While some may say that is so long ago, research must have advanced, I'm a proponent that if it's not broken, I don't try to fix it!
That's the way I see it.