I really don’t believe there is any good argument in support of adopting a low carbohydrate Ironman triathlete diet if you want to perform at your best.
These days there are dozens of books and internet articles slamming carbohydrates and in it’s stead, promoting low carbohydrate diets that are comprised mainly of protein and fat.
The Atkins diet was one of the earlier diets slanted in this direction and opened the door to people eating all the bacon, eggs, and steak they could handle…..as long as there were no hash-browns with eggs or baked potatoes with the steak.
It should be noted that the Atkins diet did allow carbohydrates to be eased into the diet after two weeks, and increased over time.
The 4-hour Body by Timothy Ferris is also a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet. However you are allowed one cheat day a week where you can eat as much of your favorite foods as you want.
Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D. is basically the Atkins Diet. The only difference is that Wheat Belly does not allow cured meat, so that means bacon is out but bring on the eggs.
It is not just lose the wheat, lose the weight as the cover of the book proclaims. It is also loose the potatoes and lose the rice and any other carbohydrates you might enjoy.
Basically, all three of these diets are based on the same principle of high protein and low carbohydrate any way you look at it.
It’s not a mystery. If a person truly wants to lose weight, they will accomplish that on any of these three diets.
However if a person wants to do the Ironman Triathlon, they will most likely call it a day shortly after the 2.4-mile swim as they smash head-first into the wall while scrambling to get their wetsuit stripped.
What Dr. Davis promises removing wheat will do for your general well being:
....Improve athletic performance ....Improve mood ....Reduce mood swings ....Improve concentration ....Improve sleep ....Increase energy ....Slow skin aging ....Improve coordination
Improving athletic performance is sort of a sweeping statement as I don’t believe all athletes will see improved performance on high protein, low carbohydrate diets. Weight lifters would most likely benefit the most from this type of diet as far as athletes go.
Rather than just believe what a book says and what critics say, I test these diets out for myself so I can write a more informative article.
I tried out the Atkins Diet and must say that I enjoyed the three or four eggs and six slices of bacon for breakfast but at the same time really missed my oatmeal, hash-browns, toast, and blueberry pancakes.
After several weeks on the Atkins diet I entered a 10k race. The gun went off and within 200 meters I knew I was in trouble and in for a tough race. My normal 38-minute time on the same course the year before became a 43-minute time. I had no energy and for the first time in my life considered dropping out of a 10k race and I ran about 100 of them.
I tried The 4-Hour Body diet as well to see if the weight loss and muscle gain that was promised actually happened if I followed the diet to the letter. Some weight lifting and strength exercises were also incorporated into the plan.
True to form I reached my lowest weight ever and gained much more muscle definition after about six weeks. This was including a cheat day every Saturday when I could eat as much of anything that I wanted to.
Usually my cheat day included a stack of blueberry pancakes smothered in butter and syrup, three bowls of ice-cream, four jelly donuts, some chocolate bars and many pieces of toast with jam.
I would gain back three pounds on cheat day and loose it again by Tuesday and then start losing in over-all weight again.
The important thing to note here is that my one-hour run on Sunday went much better than a one-hour run on Thursday or Friday.
Obviously, having carbohydrates in your system to increase glycogen stores is crucial for optimum athletic endurance performance.
It seems to me that if you go into an endurance race like the Ironman coming off of weeks of a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet your glycogen is already depleted before the start gun goes off and you will soon be in trouble.
I’m no doctor, but from my own experience I don’t believe any low carbohydrate diet is beneficial for endurance athletes.
A low carbohydrate diet will actually deplete your glycogen stores. This in turn will cause dehydration and the weight you lose may not be all it appears to be. The weight you lose on high protein diets is often fluid loss caused by this dehydration. So in reality, it’s not really fat loss. This would most likely be especially true in the early weeks of the diet.
Without glycogen stores it takes no time at all to become fatigued. Without glycogen in your muscles there isn’t much enthusiasm to exercise or even move, so how can one hope to finish an Ironman on a low carbohydrate diet?
Carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain breads and pastas, and brown rice are excellent fuel sources for endurance athletes. However the amount of these you eat should be dictated by the amount you exercise(or in the case of an Ironman triathlete…how much you train).
If you life a sedentary life-style and seldom exercise, excessive carbohydrates will most likely lead to weight gain, but if you are training religiously for an Ironman it’s possible to eat large amounts of carbohydrates and never gain a pound.
If the amount of calories you take in is more than the amount of calories you burn, you will most likely gain weight. It’s not a complicated formula.
The best diet book I ever came across is EAT TO WIN by Dr. Robert Haas. It was written sometime in the mid-eighties and I don’t even know if it’s still in print.
It was a high carbohydrate diet that fly’s in the face of all these high protein diets that are being touted all over the place.
On the Eat To Win Diet I was eating up to 70% carbohydrates on a daily basis. The other 30% was split between quality protein and fats.
I ate copious amounts of potatoes, pasta, whole grain bread I made myself, and brown rice.
I raced at 150 pounds and my weight hardly varied from year to year. I had my best Ironman result ever on this diet plan.
Back in 1987-88 when I went for a morning training swim at the local pool the Aquabelles would often be training in the adjacent pool for the upcoming 1988 Seoul Olympic Summer Games.
One day I was talking to their coach and I asked her what diet they were on and she said…the EAT TO WIN Diet.
I knew then I was on the right track. The duet of Michelle Cameron and Caroline Waldo who were training in the pool beside me won the gold medal in Seoul. I doubt very much that they would have had the necessary energy for their long, energy-sapping routines on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.
It’s very true that carbohydrates burned in the fire of quality fat generates the fuel for endurance athletes.