It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

February 17, 2014

A "Maybe Crazy" Experiment

What if I told you that you could:
  • Lose Weight
  • Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
  • Improve Performance
  • Have nearly unlimited energy stores
  • Basically never bonk again during an endurance including an ultra marathon or Ironman
  • Build lean muscle
  • Have better mental focus
  • Eliminate hunger and cravings
  • And More
Well you'd sign right up?  Right?  Kind of sounds like an infomercial doesn't it?

Well it's not new, it's been around for a really long time.  It's just something I have NEVER considered before.  A low carbohydrate/sugar and high fat diet.  Think Atkins - I guess.  I never really read that much about the Atkins diet, but I imagine it's similar.  It is known at the Ketogenic diet.  You restrict carbs to around 20 to 30 a day and get the majority of your calories from fats - including olive oil, avocados, and coconut oils and butters just to name a few.  It does allow for moderate fruit and most vegetables besides starchy or root vegetables like potatoes and corn.  By restricting the carbohydrate intake you induce nutritional ketosis - where your body starts using it's fat stores (basically unlimited) instead of glycogen stores for fuel.

As an endurance athlete I have been programmed to believe that carbs are good.  Carbs are required to maintain glycogen stores.  Once you run out of glycogen you bonk right?  So you keep ingesting carbs all throughout an event, which often leads to stomach upset and other problems.

Anyway, I'm not here to sell anyone on this.  Frankly, I am not sure I am sold on it.  But I am intrigued, very intrigued and I am willing to give it a try for a month to see what it's all about.  So, I just thought I'd share what I was learning with you.  I am always intrigued by the science of our bodies.

I have always believed in a diet of moderation.  I eat mostly whole foods with lots of fruits, veggies, lean means and slow release carbs like quinoa, steel cut oats and brown rice, etc.  I allow myself treats too.  Unfortunately my "treats" have been far too frequent lately. And my diet is not on the right track right now.  I've been eating a lot of sugar and carbs...way too much.  I did to break the cycle.

So I knew I needed to start cutting back on them. So about a month ago, I did low carb for a week kind of hoping to break the sugar/carb cycle and then slowly let them back in - I let them back in the minute I was done.  In the meantime, I have been reading a lot about the connection between sugar and carbs and cancer.  Did you know that many cancers actually feed on sugar?  That's what they give cancer cells in lab tests to get them to grow - glucose.  Scary.

I also found out about a friend of mine who was moving to this low carb/high fat diet.  Why was she doing it?  She has breast cancer.  She is foregoing traditional chemotherapy and radiation and treating her condition with diet.  She is under the care of a doctor.  It is believed that without glucose in the system for cancer cells to feed on you can basically "starve" the cancer and therefore eliminate it. 

There is tons of information out there on this, but here is on article if you are interested.  I also just finished reading "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance" which basically talks about how/why low carb can be used effectively for endurance athletes (available on Amazon).  It was a super quick read - a bit technical, but I thought it had some really good information.

If I try to share everything with you here this will end up being very lengthy, so I will just start with this and share more with you during my journey.  I have decided to give this a try for the next four weeks.  It takes your body approximately 2 to 3 weeks to "adapt" and get into what is known as nutritional ketosis.  I'm not sure this will be a complete lifestyle change for me forever, but I am hoping it will help me eliminate the unnecessary sugars and carbs from my diet in the future.  But who knows, this could be the one thing that works for me.  I do believe every body is different.

Has anyone out there ever done the low carbohydrate thing for any real length of time while also training/racing?  I'd love to hear feedback from people.

Until then, I'll keep you posted!  Today is day 1!


  1. I've never tried because not only am I an endurance athlete I'm also vegetarian so I just don't want to restrict anymore. I think the key is like you said moderation of everything and with carbs try to cut out the bad and only eat the complex ones. Same with fats cut out the bad keep the good.

    1. Yes, while it probably could be done on a vegetarian diet, I agree that it would be a real challenge.

  2. Did Whole30 last year which is similar to this. Lost 12 pounds--all fat. Felt great after the first 2 weeks . Have stuck with a Paleo diet since then with some treats once I a while. You might like "It Starts with Food".

  3. The only way you'll know if it's right for you is to give it a go. We're all an experiment of one and I'm all for trying new things to see if they work for you.

  4. my husband is also doing whole 30 and he loves it. it's a lot of prep work/cooking, but he says he feels better than he ever has!

  5. I'm doing something that is very similar, its a meal program I order from online. I felt pretty crappy the first week but it has gotten better since then.

  6. My daughter did something very similar. She weighed 360 lbs, and also suffered from seizures. She was ready to lose weight and wanted to get the ok from her neurologist before she started a diet.
    We found out that a low carb higher fat diet helps reduce seizures in some patients, and as we know, is good for weight loss. The first several months the weight fell off!!! We followed Atkins but allowed one fruit a day. As of today she has lost 170 lbs. She has followed a lower carb diet for 2 years now and it has become a way of life.
    This is her blog if youd like to follow her.

    1. Thanks Deb! That is awesome to hear! I had read that it is a good diet for seizures and also Alzheimers. It seems like it has many potential health benefits. That is amazing about your daughter!

  7. I must admit that anything to do with any form of diet is a bit of a nemesis to me. I am very disciplined at just about everything I do but dieting and good eating habits does not fall in that category. So hats off to you for starting this. I admire and applaud your guts. All the best and be strong!

  8. I tried Paleo for a month last year and loved the way it made me feel, except I felt like I lost all energy for long runs, although I am sure had I stuck to it my body would have adapted and that would have improved.

  9. I don't have weight or health issues and my taste is pretty healthy and balanced, so I am not following any diet plans, but if I ever need to, Paleo or something similar makes a lot of sense to me. It sounds to me very intuitive and natural. And your version of the diet sounds similar to Paleo, if I understood that correctly. Several of my friends do Paleo and they have lost lots of weight, and they are very energized, their running improved amazingly e.g. from 2h to 1'5h for a half marathon in less than a year time. However, I must tell you that for all of them took several months to really notice changes, some of them even gained some pounds in the first stage which was a struggle with old habits anyway - so one month experiment simply might not be enough. But good luck, and please report frequently about the experience!

    1. Yes, it is similar to Paleo. I have a few triathlon friends who are doing Paleo as well and have for a year or so. I think Paleo allows for a little more carbohydrate and may be the route I take eventually.

  10. Dunno. I went to a runner's nutrition talk recently and the takeaway was that we should indulge in beef, bacon, and butter. Those three words flashed on his PowerPoint presentation several times. He cited only two studies that validated his unconventional nutrition advice, and he didn't give any context for them. It all felt a little sketchy and iconoclastic.

    Maybe it is time to shake up the conventional wisdom. I understand that stretching before running is now considered bad and that a cool down after a run is unnecessary (unless you're an elite). Heel striking may be bad from a running mechanics standpoint, but apparently it's not bad for your joints. Live and learn.

    Still, there is a lot of science and study behind glycogen storage and usage in runners. A few studies that contradict this and that are schilled by people with agendas aren't enuf to convince me. Yet.

  11. Personally, I think Paleo is a much safer diet. Endurance athletes require carbs but far fewer than most people believe.

    If you want to lose weight only cook and eat food that YOU have prepared. All individual items in this meal should not have a list of ingredients. Example: Fruit, veggies, meat, dairy. Avoid shopping in the center of the grocery store. Only enter there for single ingredient foods (sugar, flower, grains, etc). No food in a box, ever. Processed foods are evil. No boxed/bottle juices (no much concentrated sugar with no fiber to balance it). Minimize eating fruit with very high sugar contents (bananas, grapes, etc). Minimize flour produces. NO SODAS!!

    I've lost 35lbs in a year following these rules. I call it the Single Ingredient diet.


  12. I'm always leery of new 'fad' diets mostly because I watched my mother yo-yo her weight my entire life. She'd lose weight then once the diet was done it would pile back on. I've noticed lately that new diets seem to be more of a lifestyle change. I think this is better for maintenance over the long term if you learn to eat consistently. I am curious to see how it works for you.

  13. I eat a primarily Paleo diet and have done so since October 2012. I haven't noticed any big shifts in endurance, and my times have been faster overall. I'm sure part of that is due to 20ish lbs in weight loss and better training, but I don't think the change in diet has impacted me. Of course, Paleo is different than ketogenic, so I can't speak to that diet.

    The biggest adjustment I had to make when changing up my diet is to figure out what veggies (since those were my main carbs) I could eat without massive stomach/bathroom issues disrupting my runs.

  14. I cut out bad carbs (pasta and bread mainly- replacing them with quinoa) during my 1st full marathon training and I felt amazing! I just wish I could quit the bad carbs again. They're seriously a drug.

    I've also heard the connection with cancer and sugar, so that makes sense.

    Keep us posted!

  15. Cancer cells feed on sugar in the lab, there really isn't any solid scientific evidence the cancer cells feed on sugar. Yes sugar is injected through the blood to make the PET scan light up, There is a whole combination of insulin resistance, sugar, being sedentary... personally everything in moderation.

  16. Cancer cells may feed on sugar in the lab, but so do all the other cells that people are trying to culture, so I wouldn't put too much stock in that one :) But you know what? It can never hurt to eat less processed food.

  17. I think that as endurance athletes we hear that carbs are important and we run with that, and end up getting way more than we actually need. (Um....guilty.)

  18. I am looking forward to your experience with this, because I have recently started to move into the low carb/low sugar lifestyle. I am also starting to decrease dairy as well, but this was mostly done because of my food intolerances and not related to my fitness goals. I'm wondering if I'll also notice gains in my fitness! Keep us all posted, please!