Fat? Sugar? Carbs? Grains? Pasta?...........what should we be eating???
June 3, 2014
I have a friend who recently decided to follow the paleo diet and essentially has cut out all sugars, processed foods, complex carbohydrates and grains. Allegedly he feels much stronger, fitter and better in himself.
This guy is training for a half ironman triathlon and is slightly obsessive. He’s also very evangelical about his diet and continues to extol the virtues of it to anyone who will listen (or not!). He’s lost 8kg in weight and is now ‘tiny’ to say the least. I’m not sure if its actually a good look, but that’s just my opinion!
Being naturally skeptical and hearing much about this type of diet through Crossfit enthusiasts, and the media generally, I thought I’d read a bit more into it…
Whilst there is no doubt that cutting out simple sugars and processed food from your diet is essential for good health, and that white pasta is a stodgy, processed high-energy food that most of us don’t need, I wasn’t sure about the virtues of reducing carbohydrate intake whilst training hard and competing in endurance events..
Surely the mantra before any event is to ‘carbo-load’ and this has been known to be true for EVER??!
Well there appears to be more to it than that…….. And without going into the scientific detail (as I don’t really do detail!) , I will explain a little, as I understand it.
Please note that I am NOT a nutrionalist, sports research scientist or any other such expert. This is just a reflection of my understanding of the many many conflicting bits of advice out there!
We have 2 primary sources of energy – 1) fat stored in the adipose tissue and 2) glycogen stored in the muscles & liver. Even very lean athletes have plenty of fat stores so it is not thought of as a rate-limiting fuel source when exercising.
When we exercise at approx. 75% maximum heartrate (as I was, during the 124Km Chiltern 100 cycle Sportive this weekend; avg HR 138bpm) we are mostly burning fat.
Generally speaking, when the intensity increases, we use glycogen. The amount we have stored, and how much we consume during exercise (and our ability to utilize fat) will determine our exercise capacity.
However, the fitter you are the more able you are to use fat at a given intensity, thus sparing your glycogen reserves.
So the key is to
Ensure your glycogen reserves are stocked up prior to exercise, and
Consume adequate amounts of it during exercise.
That means a big pasta meal the night before and energy gels throughout the race, right?
Not necessarily so.
Carbohydrates remember are also found in veggies, pulses, grains, rice. Pasta is just another processed product we can do without.
And just loading up the night before is just going to bloat you for the race the next day. Better to stock up gradually throughout the week, but don’t overdo it. Moderate-carb diets (40-50%) will still provide enough energy, particularly if you are an efficient far-burner.
And energy gels?
Well my experiment in the Chiltern 100 last weekend was to avoid all sugary gels, sweets and drinks and replace them with REAL food. So I took banana/pecan rice cakes and apple/cinnamon oat bites, and had a banana. That meant I got good quality slow-release carbohydrate throughout the race – approx. 110 cals every 45 mins and I felt great!
I burnt 2500 calories in 5hrs 20 of cycling. Realistically I should have eaten 1250 during that event to fuel me adequately. I probably consumed about 800cals, but as I was fat burning for the majority of the time (except on the climbs), it worked perfectly!
Moral of this blog?
Eat clean, healthy foods
If you can’t understand the ingredients, don’t eat it
Do not avoid fats as they are essential for life & energy
Don’t overload on carbs, ‘cos you’ll only have to burn them off & it ain’t easy!