Going Against the Grain – A Diet guide for the Modern Triathlete
Coach BAMF aka Coach Chuck is all about his athletes racing faster and understands the factors that go into speed and efficiency. He understands there are many ways to achieve one’s goals. However, one of the bigger ones is making racing weight and being healthy and happy. Here he writes about a topic near and dear to him, and one that will assist many IRONMAN triathletes and endurance sports athletes.
NSNG: WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Many of you may have heard me, or others use the acronyms “NSNG” (No Sugar, No Grains) and “LCHF” (Low Carb, High Fat) and wondered what it all means. Alternative ways of eating by removing refined sugars and complex carbohydrates that are not new to our low calories, low fat, heart healthy grain culture. In fact, they’ve been around for many years in one form or another. Advocates of this method of eating were considered heretics by so called ‘nutritional subject matter experts and doctors’ because they go against the conventional wisdom of what we’ve all been told was the “right” way to eat. But with the continued year over year increase of obesity rates in both adults and children, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease people are starting to have a paradigm shift in the way they think about, and eat food.
IT’S NOT A NEW FAD
Scientific studies on obesity and removal of sugars and carbs from patients diets to promote weight loss date back as far as the early 1900’s and have been proven to show results. In the late 1970’s and well into the 1980’s people like Dr. Phil Maffetone were promoting this way of eating and helped many legendary triathletes such as Mark Allen, Mike Pigg, and Paula Newby-Frazier achieve great success in training and racing. Even advocates of the high carbohydrate diet for athletes like Dr. Timothy Noakes have done a complete 180 degree shift in their beliefs and views, and have even gone as far as to state publicly that they were wrong. Check out this very interesting Podcast with Maffetone, Noakes, and Allen.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM AT PLAY
So why do more people not follow this way of eating? Our culture has been engrained to believe that fat is bad, and that we need to “carbo-load” days before events and consume sugary products during them to perform our best in athletic competitions. In addition to this, product marketing is big business in our sport and many athletes are sponsored and required to promote them on a regular basis. Eating a high fat diet and removing all refined sugars is not a popular message.
CARB vs FAT FOR FUEL. WHICH ONE?
Our bodies have both a fat and carbohydrate fuel storage tank. The carbohydrate storage holds a max of 2,000 kcals, whereas our fat storage can hold anywhere from 40,000 to upwards of 100,000 kcals at any given time. Even in the leanest of athletes. So the question is why would we not want to tap into that fuel for training and racing?
Glycogen storage can be used up within a shorter span of time based on the level of effort put forth. So in order to maintain performance an athlete must continue to ingest sugar and carbs to top off the tank. This creates blood sugar and insulin spikes in the body and cause a peak and crash effect. It can also be the cause of GI issues many athletes consistently deal with. Learning to tap into your fat storage provides a constant flow of energy without spiking. With time and training an athlete is ultimately able to reduce the number of calories needed per hour which can also assist with controlling stomach problems.
BUT IT’S QUINOA….SO IT’S A GOOD GRAIN!
So what do you need to do if you want to try it? This is simple. Stop consuming anything with refined sugars and/or complex carbohydrates. That means all of it including all sugar substitutes and grains that we are all told are “healthy.” It also includes your precious training drink mixes and energy bars. When it comes to the body, it doesn’t know a healthy grain over one considered not good for you. It only knows it as a grain.
And don’t fall victim to sugar. Sugar goes by many names. The problem is almost everything that is sold in your local grocery stores has some form of this in it, especially in the middle of the section of the supermarket. You have to start reading labels. And, you have to start eating real foods. Meats, fish, nuts, nut butters, seeds, eggs (yes the WHOLE EGG!), real butter, (no sugar) dairy products, vegetables, and fats such as olives, olive oils, coconut oil, avocados. Some fruits can be included*
GOTTA SLOW YO ROLL
Ok, so you decided to change your diet. Now how do you become a fat burner? This is the tough one for athletes to grasp and apply because many of them have a specific mindset on how they should be training. In order to become a fat burner you must SLOW DOWN. That’s right. You have to slow down. Fat burning takes place at an aerobic threshold pace. Another way of explaining it, you train at your sub-maximal effort.
The switch doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re a regular high carbohydrate eater your body is used to burning glycogen first. It can take several weeks to reverse this process and get your body to tap into its fat stores. You do this by changing your diet and adjusting your level of effort in training.
Let me close by stating there is no one-size fits all approach to this. For example, read here High Carb or High Fat? The Running Diet Debate. About a quarter of the population can consume and process carbohydrates quite effectively. Everyone is different and you have to figure out for yourself where you fall in the scheme of things. If you’ve been following the same pattern for quite a while now and are not seeing success in weight management or results in training and racing, perhaps changing things up in your approach to both could provide a different result.
BOOKS TO CONSIDER:
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney
Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz
Fitness Confidential by Vinnie Tortorich
*Much of the fruit that is grown and sold now has been highly modified (genetically) to increase the fructose sweetness, therefore you must be careful and selective when choosing to consume it. The best options are to stick with fruits considered to be low glycemic such as berries, and avoid the ones considered to be high glycemic like bananas.