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Beat bonk and obesity with low carb diet: Ketogenic athletes and dieters score

High fat low carb diets help athletes and weight loss.
High fat low carb diets help athletes and weight loss.
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The traditional advice to runners: Consume "pasta, rice, potatoes, or other high-carb foods before a half or full marathon," advises Runner's World magazine. But in New Zealand and beyond, ultra-endurance athletes are reversing that advice and going on high fat ketogenic diets based on new research that's created a sea change in the nutrition world, reported the New Zealand Herald on Monday.

While the majority of sports nutritionists prescribe high carb, low fat diets for athletes, "it doesn't work for everyone." And for those who bonk before beginning the second half of a race, ketogenic diets may be the solution, say a growing number of experts.

Currently, a New Zealand Ironman is trying a ketogenic diet. The plan: Low carb, high fat with moderate protein. Other athletes are powering up on Paleo diets, such as the Warriors.

For those who want to lose weight, low carb high fat ketogenic diets also can provide the answer, reported the International News Network on Monday. And for weight loss, nutritional ketosis may not be necessary to fuel success.

Study leaders Cara Ebbeling, PhD, associate director and David Ludwig, MD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital, found that both low-glycemic index diets and low-carb diets provided more benefits than counting calories.

"We've found that, contrary to nutritional dogma, all calories are not created equal," summed up Dr. Ludwig, who directs the Optimal Weight for Life Clinic at Boston Children's Hospital.

Exemplifying that theory: "Total calories burned plummeted by 300 calories on the low fat diet compared to the low carbohydrate diet, which would equal the number of calories typically burned in an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity," he revealed.

But before you belly up to the butter balls, Ebbeling and Dr. Ludwig found that for long-term maintenance, it's easier to follow a low-glycemic index diet.

And the irony indicated by this study: The low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Association and USDA resulted in the lowest levels of calorie-burning, an unhealthy lipid pattern and insulin problems.

In an exclusive interview, Professor Tim Noakes told me that he became a believer in low carb diets after he shifted from his own high carb, low-fat plan to a high fat plan. "Within eight weeks I had lost 11kg and improved my running times to those I had last run 20 years earlier," he said.

Not only did he lose weight and improve his athleticism, but Noakes found that what he had thought were normal signs of aging were actually due to his diet. "My increasing infirmity that I thought was due to increasing age was in fact caused by the high carbohydrate diet that I was eating," he admitted.

Why are low carb diets so effective? They control hunger, which "both boosts how much weight is lost and helps dieters to maintain. Calorie counting and doing huge amounts of exercise to control weight does not work and is in any case completely unnecessary," he added.

Concurring with him: Dr. Stephen Phinney. In an exclusive interview, he told me that he and his colleague Dr. Jeff Volek conducted numerous studies before concluding that low carb high fat ketogenic diets are both safe and effective for weight loss as well as athletes.

And his takeaway message: "Obviously at this juncture, we are not recommending that everyone should go on a ketogenic diet," qualified Dr. Phinney. "But everyone should markedly reduce their intakes of sugars (sucrose, glucose, fructose) and refined carbs."

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