Remember when eating whole grain cereal for breakfast seemed like the best approach for weight loss, health and energy? Now more people, from elite athletes to dieters to celebrities, are replacing grains with eggs, bacon and butter as they switch from low-fat, high carb diets to high fat low carb and Paleo plans, reported the Sydney Morning Herald on August 13.
When it comes to the increasing popularity of high fat low carb diets for athletes, Professor Tim Noakes is leading the pack. Professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town and a marathon and ultramarathon runner, he's been vocal about his own shift from a high carb diet to a high fat low carb plan for weight loss and to control diabetes.
And although he specializes in sports, Noakes believes high fat low carb diets can help everyone because they satisfy hunger. "If you’re hungry you’ll never control your weight," he pointed out.
For athletes, Noakes contends ketogenic diets are particularly helpful. "For events of more than five hours, fat-adapted athletes have an advantage,” he added.
Agreeing with him is Dr. Jeff Volek, who specializes in low carb diets. "There is a growing number of athletes who have been told that they need carbs and now you see them questioning that conventional wisdom," said Volek in an August 12 interview with Sports Illustrated.
However, he notes that it requires an adjustment period. Co-author with Dr. Stephen Phinney of "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance," Volek recommends allowing "at least four weeks to adapt to the diet.
Ketogenic diets are designed to help your body burn fat for fuel. The Atkins diet is often cited as an example of a weight loss plan based on nutritional ketosis. But Volek believes that the benefits extend beyond shedding pounds.
"There are benefits related to recovery and even cognition and mental clarity—the brain is very efficient at using ketones as a stable fuel source," he said. "Almost anyone can do it and it’s something they can maintain through competition."
When it comes to competition, Sami Inkinen ranks as a world-class athlete. In an exclusive interview on August 12, Sami discussed his diet and accomplishments, including his latest endeavor called the Fat Chance Row.
Sami and his wife Meredith Loring just completed two months of rowing from California to Hawaii. They completed more than 2,400 miles without outside assistance. They also participated in the inaugural Great Pacific Race.
The Fat Chance Row was designed to "raise awareness about the dangers of sugar and processed carbs, which we believe are behind our childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic," said Sami. Their low carb diet consists of whole foods, with no sugar or grains.
During the row, the couple ate freeze-dried meat and vegetables, nuts and nut butter. It sufficed to power them through even the initial weeks on the ocean, which were challenging, he added.
"The weather turned nasty, we got 25+ knot winds and waves the size of a house. Or at least that's how it appeared to us. Fighting and getting through these stormy conditions was the biggest challenge," he added.
Only two days posed challenges in terms of fatigue, Sami noted. "We knew that this could be due to lack of potassium, so I got out of it by eating much more of the salt that was also heavy in potassium. Other than that, we both fared surprisingly well and felt steady energy throughout the journey."
They even finished with a one-week sprint that featured their longest daily distances, adding up to more than 80 nautical miles daily. Sami believes that the diet that he's followed for several years made a significant difference.
"Simply by eating a whole foods based diet, with zero added sugar, no grains and overall low in carbohydrates, I've been able to more than triple the amount of fat my body can burn per hour," Sami said. Because he is up to 750kcal/hr now, he has become a more successful long-distance athlete.
"I can go longer and harder before bonking," Sami noted. Although his diet is low in carbs, he feels that it probably does not qualify as a true ketogenic diet based on his ketone readings.
Moreover, although he has an exceptionally high rate of fat-burning, Sami turns to carbohydrates prior to competitions that are lengthy.
"Despite the very high rate of fat burn, I still make sure that my glycogen stores are filled up before a long race lasting more than three hours," he said. "In other words, I eat carbohydrate-rich real food, such as rice and potatoes, two days before an important race."
Sami typically completes his workouts without breakfast. He also does not partake of additional carbohydrates or food during his exercise.
"Contrary to what many say, this has not negatively affected my top end performance in workouts or races," he said. "I can easily run two hours or complete a four to five-hour bike ride with only water now."
Now that he has shifted from the standard endurance athlete's high-carb, high-sugar diet to his Paleo-style low carb diet, Sami has noted the benefits. "I've had much less inflammation or sickness and it has allowed me to train harder and recover faster."
His advice to others: "You'll very likely live healthier and perform better if you eliminate added sugar and processed carbohydrates from your diet." And Sami avoids complex rules, making it easy to follow.
"My diet is very simple: whole foods with no added sugar or grains or processed carbohydrates. I eat mountains of vegetables, eggs, avocado, grass feed beef and butter. Macronutrients are roughly 10 to 15% carbohydrate calories, 20 to 25% protein and 60 to 70% fat," said the athlete.
Sami recommends Dr. Stephen Phinney’s and Dr. Volek’s books, such as "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance." He also agrees with Noakes' views.