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Many runners have experienced this frustration . . . no matter how much you run it doesn’t seem to have a dramatic effect on your weight loss.
Speaking from his personal experience of having completed over 70 marathons and ultra marathons Dr. Noakes writes,
“In forty-one years of running I have learnt that the numerous benefits of exercise do not include any sustained effects on weight loss.” -Challenging Beliefs, Kindle version
We have all heard the conventional formula for losing weight: (1) eat less (2) exercise more.
But when you step back and think about this model a cruel irony settles in . . .
Dr. Tim Noakes on High Fat, Low-Carbohydrate Diets
The Cruel Irony
Who on the planet exercises more than long distance runners!? Some of us are running 70+ miles per week for crying out loud! (Not to mention all the cross-training workouts). Yet, the extra pounds won’t go away.
When it comes to calorie restriction, what does this do other than make you hungry all the time and steal your will to live?
The conventional formula of “eat less and exercise more” should be called “weight loss through suffering”. We stubbornly tell ourselves that the suffering will be worth it because in the end we will be fitter, faster, and happy.
The Weight Loss Hamster Wheel
I don’t know anybody who exercises more than Angie. She ran over 1,800 miles last year, completed 9 marathons, and hardly ever missed a cross-training day (yoga, core training, weight training). She went through the P90X system and followed the videos to the T. She ate a calorie restricted diet and fought back her hunger pains. And how much weight did she lose in the end?
Drum roll please . . .
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Three whole pounds.
She will tell you that the strength conditioning was very helpful to her running and she has no regrets about going through the program though the weight loss was minimal.
Dr. Noakes sees the irony when he writes in Challenging Beliefs,
“Conventional diets prescribed for weight control produce a long-term weight loss of about one kilogram after a year of sustained effort”
1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds
This is not to say that people can’t find success through conventional diets. Maybe you have lost a lot of weight through a calorie restricted diet and are healthy and happy today. But for the rest of us wondering if there is a better way to lose weight, with less suffering, I present to you the high fat low-carbohydrate diet. Actually, it’s not a diet, just a different way to eat –a lifestyle change.
Interestingly, Dr. Noakes was a very strong proponent of low fat high carbohydrate diets throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He is partially responsible for the “carbo loading” belief that still dominates the marathon scene today. Chapter three of his influential book The Lore of Running published in 1985 recommends increasing carbohydrate stores before exercise. He now says you should rip that section out of the book. 😉
As it turns out, eating a high carbohydrate diet can lead to weight gain and diabetes in later life for those who are carbohydrate-resistant (CR). In our interview Dr. Noakes talks aboout his genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes, the slow agonizing deterioration of his father’s health as he struggled with this disease, and the role of a high carbohydrate diet in compounding the problem.
Since adopting a high fat low-carb diet he has seen dramatic weight loss and reinvigorated his running –dropping his weight by 44 pounds and trimming 40 minutes off his half marathon time.
His journey to this dietary and lifestyle change is perhaps best told by the man himself.
Angie has now been following a high fat low carbohydrate diet for five months and has lost 12 pounds without feeling hungry and deprived. She hasn’t had to increase her level of exercise and enjoys experiencing steady energy levels and fewer sugar cravings.
I applaud Dr. Noakes’ willingness to follow the best evidence wherever it leads even though it means publically disinheriting his previous work. I’m looking forward to getting his newest book Real Meal Revolution.
How to Get Started with High Fat Low Carb Eating
If this sounds like a lifestyle change you can use I recommend taking the following steps.
- Listen to our interview with Dr. Noakes and watch the above video to get the knowledge behind why high fat low carbohydrate diets make sense.
- Read my blog post on Vinnie Tortorich’s NSNG diet (no sugar no grains).
- To go deeper I recommend reading at least one book. Top of the list would be Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubs.
- Go get some fat! Do you eat avocadoes, coconut oil, olive oil, real butter, heavy cream, organic meats?
- Cut out grains. It is time to stop eating bread, cereal, crackers, pasta, wheat, corn, and things made from corn.
- Cut out sugars. It is time to get rid of sugar, candy, sugary drinks and snacks, and limit your fruit intake to 1-2 servings per day. Sugar hides in most processed foods so read labels carefully.
- Stay tuned. If this all seems overwhelming to you help is on the way. Angie is creating a multi-media course on what to do to get started.
Let me know what you think! Agree? Disagree? I invite your comments below. If you are interested in a ketogenic diet, click for more information.
So happy to see someone in the running community promoting something other than constant carbs for fuel. Much respect for looking at the evidence and not blindly following outdated nutritional dogma. I look forward to hearing more.
Thanks Robyn. I also admire Dr. Noakes for being willing to swim upstream on this issue.
Trevor, you and Angie have also earned my respect for bringing Dr. Noakes and others, like Vinny Tortorich, to our attention. You bring a lot of valuable information to average, everyday runners of all ability levels. Thank you.
Putting together a multmedia course on what is required of someone desiring to go NSNG is an awesome idea. I look forward to seeing it.
BTW, the break points in the interview were well-edited and made sense to listen on their own.
Thanks for the feedback Stu! We are excited to get this NSNG project launched . . . as soon as Angie get’s it ready (she can be a perfectionist sometimes).
Angie and Trevor! As always enjoying your episodes! 😀
My question is for Angie- what kind of meals do you eat with this type of diet? Can
you give us a week example of a day worth of meals and snacks?
Thanks Ruby. That’s a great question. Here’s what an average day looks like for us:
Breakfast- 2 eggs fried in bacon grease, fresh grapefruit, green tea with 1 T. coconut oil
Lunch- large veggie salad with leftover salmon, 1/2 avocado and olive oil/vinegar dressing.
Snack- handful of raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc)
Dinner- taco salad with shredded chicken, romaine lettuce, pumpkin seeds (instead of chips), tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green onions, peppers, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, etc.
Dessert- 1 oz 86% dark chocolate
What you eat depends on your personal preferences and dietary goals. Hope that helps!
Angie and Trevor,
Great interview with Dr. Noakes! I love all of your podcast episodes, but this episode and topic has been one of my favorites! I can’t wait to find out more about your multimedia course. Thanks for all of your great work and info!
Thanks Beth! I’m glad we could get him on the show. It sounds like he want to come back on in the future. We might need to make this a yearly occurrence.
Thanks Beth. We’re glad you enjoyed the interview. We’ll keep working hard to get the NSNG course ready.
Interesting interview. What I find dismaying is that so much of what we ‘know’ about diet has so little science behind it. However we do know that people are omnivores both in practice and structure. Our teeth, for example have strong grinding surfaces as well as sharp points for cutting. Our digestive tract is more extensive than that of a carnivore, but not as complex as most pure herbivores. We know that most people ate grains long before they were domesticated with agriculture; the practice predates homo sapiens. We even know that (thanks to recent comparisons) we are somewhat adapted to cooking which breaks down complex plant carbohydrates into forms we could not otherwise digest. The problem seems to be the recent innovation of cracking the grain to remove the germ and bran, then loading the mix with huge amounts of simple sugars before cooking.
The current ‘cave man’, or high fat/protein diet has been around for some time, since the mid 70’s. Nothing new there. My concern is that there may be an inadvertent ‘straw man’ argument used to advocate for it. It would be interesting to test the paleo diet against a standard mixed diet using whole grains and low sugar. I suspect the results will be at least as effective.
Thanks for your insightful comments Randy. You bring up some excellent points. I agree that a healthy individual without weight problems should be able to integrate some grains without difficulty. However for some people who are more carb resistant even adding whole grains can cause sugar cravings which start a dangerous cycle. I do know some people who eat a mostly paleo diet while including the occasional gluten free grains and they do great. It’s definitely important to experiment and see how your body functions most optimally.
Hey, Angie and Trevor.
I was wondering if this and the NSNG discovery has changed your running fuel philosophy. I tend to follow Trevor’s advice for long runs (as posted in http://marathontrainingacademy.com/what-i-need-to-run-20-miles). Trevor, is this still what you do?
Hi Jonathan, that’s a good question. We are going through an evolution of sorts right now. Here’s what we are doing at the moment:
Angie and I have been experimenting with a different fueling protocol to complement our dietary changes. We are trying to run fat-adapted so we haven’t been taking as much fuel during long runs or fuels high in carbohydrates. Angie has been using Generation Ucan with success. I’m still figuring out what works best for my stomach. Yesterday on my 20 miler I used a combination of Ucan and real food and it worked well.
The advice I gave in that post is still good for those not worried about following NSNG. I ran my first marathon and my PR using that system.
I can’t stand folks like Tim Noakes. It’s not swimming upstream to go with Low Carb High Fat, kerogen if diet right now, it’s what’s in, paleo is the fad right now. Everyone is going high fat. But he science is so against it that I can’t believe people are falling for the lies. Have someone on like Rich Roll, Dr. Esselstyn or his son who wrote the Engine 2 Diet, or Dr. Graham, or Dr. McDougall, or Dr. Campbell all have been published in many health journals and show that a humans were ment to eat carbs, we are designed to eat fruit and as much of it as we want. Americans eat more fat than ever nowadays and it shows with our obesity epidemic, the vegetable oil industry is minuscule compared to the dairy and meat industry, thy are loving (and paying) some of these people to come out with crazy studies saying that eating fat is good for you. Look at the Kenyans, they eat high carb diet and you see how they do. Just frustrating hearing someone who only eats 800-1000cal a day, who says eating is bad for us and said in an interview that humans that eat the least that live the longest. Please have someone high carb on the show.
Hi Alex. Thanks for your comment. I think nutrition is always going to be one of those very controversial areas. When people have good results on a particular diet it’s easy to get very passionate about it. I do believe that a person should study both sides of an argument and ultimately decide what’s best for them. Some people may do well on a high carb diet while others will experience blood sugar instability, cravings and weight gain. There have been a couple studies that show that Kenyans have a high amount of the enzyme amylase in their saliva which breaks down carbohydrates more efficiently. The bottom line is that the human body is very adaptable, but when we start to experience problems it might be time to do some research and be willing to try a different approach.
Do you get your blood test done? What’s your Kcal intake look like? Do you take stimulants(coffee, pre-workout, energy drinks)?
Hi Keith. Great questions. One of the reasons I started a high fat/low carb diet is because of some blood work results that weren’t ideal. I will be going in for more tests (complete blood count, lipid profile, etc) in the near future and am eager to see if there have been any changes. I don’t track my daily calorie intake but would guess that it’s around 2,200 on an average day. I have around 2 cups of green tea per day for a small caffeine hit because my system is very sensitive to caffeine. Trevor drinks two cups of coffee on the average day (one before his workout).
Wow great reply. I agreed with some of the points of the original poster, but your calm, balanced and mature reply really impressed me – which makes me want to look more into what you’re saying. I’ve tried both high fat and also high carb diets. By high fat, I didn’t stuff my face all day long with fat. I had healthy natural fats from avocado, coconut oil & milk, olives, ackee and nuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also ate lots of low calorie veg and salad items (green beans, sugar snap peas, cucumber, kale, spinach etc etc) I did extremely well eating like this lost a lot of weight, had my lowest body %(16) and lots of energy. However when upping my running to 10 miles and taking part in gruelling week long punishing surf sessions 4-5 hours a day in Morocco, I did start to feel exhausted and also started to crave “energy” and so I ate dried fruit in between surfs to stop the shakes and crashing which worked extremely well. I generally didn’t have cravings on this diet but would occasionally have a bottomless pit feeling in my stomach specifically for muesli and yoghurt (once a fortnight) and also beans and pulses and so I went with it and filled up on it (eating more fat and veg just didn’t satisfy me at those times). I was also craving mangoes more and more. So I decided to tried a high carb diet (but still grain free, no added sugar and no processed food) – I ate lots of tropical fruit, potatoes, and cliff bars. But with these foods I have to eat every few hours and it’s often not satisfying in the sense that I need to eat more fruit than I had apportioned to feel content. I do feel very energetic on a fruit diet and also perform well running and swimming, but I also have gained 10lbs and feel heavier rather than light and breezy (surprisingly it’s not affecting my performance greatly though and running actually feels easier. I’m also eating beans and pulses in the evenings as I do start craving salty food eating mostly fruit and sometimes I also start craving grains (corn and wheat), but no cravings at all for muesli and yogurt! Having tracked all this I’m not sure what this means (do you have any thoughts)? I’m still looking for the answer to the ideal diet that will mean I feel light, energetic and don’t have cravings. As neither diet for me is completely satisfying and I start craving food items from the “other camp”. On both diets I also eat protein smoothies from time to time. I wonder if you can provide some objective insights on my experience to help me out? Many Thanks!
I’m curious if you have been feeding your kids the high fat/low carbohydrate diet? In my opinion, it takes a little more thought and prep work to eat that type of diet, and as you know, it can be very chaotic feeding a family. How have your kids reacted to it?
On another note, I have struggled with irritible bowel syndrome for years. I was put on a gluten free diet for a while, before I finally got my blood tested for allergies and was deemed NOT allergic to gluten. However, I have found through years of experimenting, that processed foods wreak havoc on my digestive tract. When I follow a paleo style diet (low grain intake, lots of vegetables, meat and fruit, very little dairy), my digestive system is happy. My energy levels are really good on this type of diet as well.
I thought the podcast was very interesting and informative. It makes me want to read more about it. I look forward to Angie’s run-down of her diet and how to start soon. Keep up the great work!
Yes, we have been feeding our kids less sugars and grains but not to the extent that Angie and I are doing. We talk about this on episode 100.
I’m glad you’ve found what works well for your body.
Interesting view point from Ben Greenfield:
Thanks for the link!