There are so many fads being thrown about nowadays and lately I have been having a lot of conversations around diet with many different people. From athletes wanting to make the switch to athletes who have successfully implemented or failed at implementing new eating habits into their lives. From professionals to amateurs to professors to enthusiasts on the subject, I feel there is so much information going about diet at the moment that I almost want to start avoiding the topic.
Endurance athletes are a species onto their own. I am not talking about half marathon runners. I am talking about Ironman athletes. Hundred miler trail runners. Multi-day stage racing experts. My first thing I want to throw out is that this knowledge I have gained is most useful for races of 4 hours and over. It requires a specific training intensity, plan and the eating plan suits that. What I am about to tell you may not work as well for anyone training for a half marathon or an olympic distance triathlon. I do not consider those to be real endurance events. They are fast, furious and the effort is anaerobic. My interest lies in the top end of the aerobic zone.
There are so many misconceptions about how we should eat if we are real endurance athletes that I am almost not sure where to start on what I believe, but perhaps we should start with what, to me, is the greatest fallacy of all.
You’ll hear terms like 60g of carbs being thrown around like an old sock in a dorm room, and immediately, as an endurance athlete, you are imagining eating one piece of broccoli a day. I hear you shout WTF and immediately your walls go up. It’s no wonder people think we don’t eat any vegetables when we eat High Fat Low Carb, Paleo, Primal, or anything else with a name.
They are talking about a term popularised by the Atkins Diet, called Net Carbs or Effective carbs.
My advice is to skip this piece of any “diet” at all. I don’t care about net carbs. I don’t give a damn about effective carbs. If you are working these out, you are wasting your time. Stop that!
Next, we should head into the names. Paleo, Atkins, Vegan, Primal, etc. Let’s skip those too. They immediately put up a wall with you because you already have negative connotations to them. So let’s skip those and focus on the following paragraph:
I eat to avoid inflammation in the gut, organs and I eat to control my glucose levels. If I don’t eat this way, I will likely have health complications by 50, and most likely die by 70. If I do eat this way, science is not sure when I will die.
Does that make sense?
If it does, then keep reading. If that is not important to you – back to your habits.
Nice. Next step is to clarify that by eating like that paragraph states, I will avoid the following:
Super. Now, for an endurance athlete, here is what you can avoid, as I have discovered:
- Sugar hangovers after long training sessions.
- Eating the kitchen sink by 11am every day.
- Gels, sugary bars, protein shakes.
- Spending tons of money on food you don’t need.
- Feeling like it takes 3 cups of coffee to get your day going.
What if I told you that you could…
- Ride 4 steady hours on a simple electrolyte replacement like Rehidrat Sport, a raw food shake and some droe wors without feeling like I was going to eat the bar tape before we got to stop for a muffin.
- Wake up, ride 2 hours on water and an espresso, without feeling like you may bonk at any given moment, if I have eaten enough fat for dinner the night before.
- Avoid stomach issues in races (long races), like 90% of athletes at Ironman. I recently ran The Otter on 1.5l of Rehidrat and 4 small home made bacon and egg rice cakes.
- Avoid getting sick during the year, especially in taper time, as well as the cravings that come with taper.
- Lose weight, but remain healthy looking (I get this one wrong from time to time, but I am still learning). I am 2kg lighter than Ironman SA this year, right now, but I look far healthier.
Sounds superb, right? Here is the secret…
Eat real food. Meat, fish, vegetables, healthy oils and nuts. Eat them from sources your trust. Learn about ethical foods. Choose foods that were raised, fed and grown naturally, and foods that are nutrient-dense, with loads of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
I eat as much as I need to maintain strength, energy, activity levels and healthy body weight. Sure, I look skinny to you, but I am healthy, alert, energetic and your “standard” is based on deprivation – I eat like a king and I deprive myself of nothing.
Food should make you healthy, surely?
I am far more interested in long-term health than a quick win, a quick fix and the big result. I don’t eat perfectly. We all have had days.
When people talk about what they eat – the first thing they tell you about it what they DON’T eat. I talk about bacon, avocados, sweet potato, vegetables, eggs and pork belly. You are allowed all those things. Stop talking about deprivation and talk about the amazing things you can eat.
Eating like this is ideal for maintaining a healthy metabolism and reducing inflammation within the body. It’s good for body composition, energy levels, sleep quality, mental attitude and quality of life. It helps eliminate sugar cravings and re-establishes a healthy relationship with food. It also works to minimize your risk for a whole host of lifestyle diseases and conditions, like diabetes, heart attack, stroke and autoimmune.
Now onto fat. Actually, just read this article to change your perceptions. Fat is good. Coconut cream in coffee. Cooking eggs in left over fat from flank steak. These are good.
It’s rather simple, actually.
- I eat for health. Full stop. I want to live a long, prosperous, energetic, healthy life doing great things.
- I eat so that I can train better and enjoy the environment I am in more, rather than being focused on the next hit of sugar.
- I eat without depriving myself of anything. Once you kick the supernormal stimuli, there is no depraving yourself.
This is the first piece of this article. In the next piece, we will talk about specifics, how long conversion takes and the common pitfalls. There are some easy tricks and I don’t want you to fall into the same holes I did. But there are no quick fixes. If you have spent years teaching your body to depend on sugar, you can imagine that it will not be happy for a while without it. Not just weeks…
This is an exciting journey, so let’s skip the titles, names and what you CAN’T eat. Let’s focus on health, fitness and bacon.