Sunday, 20 September 2015

LCHF and endurance riding - Part 1

I have been asked to elaborate on my experience with LCHF and endurance riding.

From the outset let me be clear. I am not an expert in nutrition or the science of sports performance. In many ways my methods are laughable, but they work for me.

My endurance successes are moderate. Sure, I have won a race and placed second and third in my last 3 non-stop 500-600km events. But these are small races in that they are not run of the mill and attract a niche crowd. Crowd is an exaggeration. A handful or two would be more correct — Let's settle for 50. In the longer 2200km format my best finish was 5th. However, in my last 2200km event I had not yet switched to a LCHF lifestyle. My best race results have been over the last 2 years after I switched to LCHF. I have focused on the 500-600 km events of late.

What follows is the experiences of a layperson. They are my experiences — not hearsay, not secondhand.

My best result, as far as physical performance is concerned was Race to Rhodes 2014; I placed third - funny story. In 2015 I won the event even though I rode it 17 hours slower - equally funny story. These two races are significant in my understanding of how I have adapted to a LCHF diet under race conditions. We will examine this in more detail later.

To understand the effects of LCHF on race performance we need to understand the base diet and degree of dietary adaption of the athlete. The switch to LCHF begins many months or years before any race event. It entails a change of lifestyle. I am not hyper-strict. I don't weight my food and I don't read all the labels. To keep it simple we eradicated a few things from our household diet — Sugar (or anything containing vast amounts such as soft drinks, drinking chocolate, cake, etc.), Bread, Pasta, Rice, Cereals and Potatoes — basically all the carbohydrate bombs. We then switched to full fat milk and stopped shying away from cheese and animal fats. Margarine was shunned and was replaced with butter.
We aren't big on compensating for low carbs by ratcheting up our fat intake, we just don't avoid fat. We select full cream yoghurt and enjoy chicken skin and the fat on joints of meat. It's important to note that the eating plan is low-carb and not no-carb.
Before I started on LCHF I had slightly elevated cholesterol. But that was in the combined LDL+HDL. My HDL has always been well above my LDL reading which is considered good. Over the last year my cholesterol levels have dropped nearly 10%. Sure, that isn't everyone's experience but it is mine. Tests were done clinically and not at the local pharmacy.

My weight over the last 2 years has dropped by 14kg's. Nothing dramatic, just a slow steady decrease. At the start I was probably 10kg's above a reasonable weight due to a riding injury that kept me off my bike for a year. The last 4 kg's are as a result of an increased training regime without a commensurate increase in food intake.

The first noticeable difference is that I am never hungry. Eating becomes a function rather than a craving. I have to remember to eat. I believe the lack of hunger is as a result in stable blood sugar levels. By controlling sugar spikes you avoid excessive release of insulin which in turn causes sugar levels to drop which I am told trigger feelings of hunger. As a test, a friend and I rode in a fasted state (no breakfast, just a glass of water) for 3 hours and then tested our blood sugar levels. Our findings showed that although we had ridden hard for 3 hours our blood sugar levels reflect completely normal levels. Our conclusion was that we were not fueled by sugar but rather by ketones released by metabolising fat in the absence of carbs. We reasoned that had we been using carbs as fuel our sugar levels would have been lowered due to the extended period of sustained exercise without a replenishing supply.

What does all this have to do with performance while competing in endurance events? A lot actually. We will get into that in the next update.

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