Endurance Without carbs

Posted: July 17, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Carbohydrate loading has always been a major thing in popular culture. runners and athletes everywhere gorging on pasta the day before an event. Hell, when I was in high school every night before a game we had team pasta dinners. Is it really necessary to overload our systems with carbohydrates to sustain success in an endurance event?

In the short term the answer is yes. Most studies that are done on this topic are done for short periods of time. However, in the long term there a ketogenic diet can be just as effective. Our hunter and gatherer ancestors performed endurance events in the means of foraging for food. In a lot of these cultures they did this with very limited carbohydrate intake.

A study done in 2004 showed a ketogenic diet to be effective at maintaining performance in endurance events. The researchers based the participants diet on that of the Inuit population since they were the last surviving hunter gatherer group researched at the time. Participants were placed on a very low calorie ketogenic diet for 6 weeks. They were fed 1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight from fish, meat, and poultry. They were also prescribed sodium and potassium supplementation. The average subject lost 10kg of bodyweight while on this diet. All the endurance tests were then done with the patients carrying a pack with the lost weight. Despite no carbohydrates and very low calories the aerobic power of the patients did not decline and actually improved after 6 weeks. The first week showed a decline in performance, but then by week 2 they were back to baseline and continued to improve (Phinney, 2004).

The improvement may have been due to the weight loss, but to me this is a striking study. The fact these people were put in a really stressful no carbohydrate situation and still thrived is amazing. There is simply no NEED for carbohydrates in our diet. We can survive just fine without them and even thrive. This was also published in JAMA with Stefansson going on an all meat diet for 5 years and coming out profoundly healthy. This is mentioned in the study I referenced as well.

I am not saying to take carbohydrates out of the diet completely. I truly believe fruits and vegetables supply us with numerous health benefits. The argument that we need carbohydrates to survive or perform maximally are utterly false unless you are participating in a highly anaerobic sport (this is not the majority of us). In fact, you can get all of your nutrients necessary to survive from fish and grassfed meat. Keep this in mind when chossing your next meal.

Here is the link to the study: http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/1/1/2/

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