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Low carb high fat diets improve both weight loss and sports performance

Athletes benefit from low carb diets.
Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

For years, both amateur and professional athletes loaded up on carbohydrates to improve their performance and energy level. Now South African endurance sports expert Tim Noakes, M.D., is challenging the concept of carb-loading with research indicating high fat low carb diets trump all those pasta and potato dishes, even for marathon runners, reported Runners World on Wednesday.

To date, 11 low-carb diet performance studies have surfaced. Nine of those research endeavors revealed that athletes achieved higher levels of performance on low-carb diets, according to Noakes, who teamed up with fellow low-carb experts Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney for the new report.

Appearing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the trio's essay note that a significant lack exists with regard to studies using keto-adapted subjects. Only one such study exists, points out Noakes, author of "Lore of Running."

Why is this significant? Because low-carb eaters require time for their bodies to shift to using fat for energy. "Studies of elite athletes chronically adapted to low-carbohydrate diets have uncovered one unexpected finding–their extraordinary ability to produce energy at very high rates purely from the oxidation of fat," wrote Volek, Phinney and Noakes.

Phinney and Volek have conducted their own set of studies in order to challenge the conventional wisdom that carbo-loading is the best option for athletes. They document those research results and their high fat low carb ketogenic diets in "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance."

In addition, Phinney conducted a study on cyclists who consumed a low-carb diet for three weeks. Once they became keto-adapted, they burned more fat and benefited from a "four-fold reduction in muscle glycogen use."

Why is this significant? Because the human body stores limited amounts of muscle glycogen. For endurance athletes, that means depletion of glycogen after a certain period of time leading to "the Wall" for marathon runners.

Noakes has attracted attention for raising the level of attention to high fat low carb diets for both athletes and those seeking weight loss. It's become known simply as the "Noakes diet," reported Times Live on Thursday.

However, Noakes refers to it as the Banting diet, recommending it for shedding pounds while suppressing hunger pangs. "Already we're talking about restaurants needing to cater 50% of their menu to the Banting diet," he said in a speech at the Food and Hospitality World Conference in Cape Town.

William Banting was an obese man who, in 1862, lost significant amounts of weight after following a high fat low carb ketogenic diet. The plan is documented in "Letter on Corpulence."

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