Bruce Fordyce
3 minute read
3 Apr 2014
11:00 am

Looking beyond carbs can pay major dividends

Bruce Fordyce

It seems that there is a new nutritional craze at the Comrades Marathon almost every year.

Years ago the salt tablets craze came and went with the victorious Tipton Harriers team. Dehydration became the great enemy shortly afterwards and we were soon all drinking a mixture of a litre of water with a spoon of sugar and a pinch of salt.

More recently the demand for corn sugar mixtures was replaced by the long chain molecule mixtures in special sachets. Then the same sachets were offered with extra caffeine.

All this time we carbohydrate loaded with pasta, rice and potatoes. The deadly serious among us even followed the strict Saltin diet version of “carbo-loading”. while the slightly less serious included beer in their diet.

And now there is Tim Noakes and the wave of controversy that has followed the publication of his book The Real Meal Revolution.

Let me declare straight away that I am a Noakes fan and more particularly a low carb/high Fat (LCHF) diet disciple because, independently of his teaching and the publication of his book, I had started to change my life by following a similar eating regime.

Simply by reducing my carbohydrate intake and especially junk carbohydrates I shed 13kg, and reduced my Comrades time from 9:48 to 7:30 and broke three hours for the standard marathon for the first time in many years.

More importantly I received extremely encouraging results from my annual medical.

The Tim Noakes diet is actually called the William Banting diet named after the London undertaker (1796 to 1878) who tried cutting carbohydrates from his diet to control his obesity. Banting’s results were so stunning that he wrote about it in a book, which is still available.

Of course there are those who are opponents of the diet and claim that it has not worked for them.

In my own case I am merely an anecdotal statistic of one, but the changes to my life have been so profound that I now run all my races on water alone.

At last year’s Two Oceans Marathon I “carbo-loaded” on fish and salad the night before the race. In the morning I drank two cups of strong coffee with cream and I ran the whole race drinking small sips of water whenever I was thirsty.

I can report that I ran strongly the whole way through the race including the two tough climbs up Chapman’s Peak and Constantia Nek. My post-race recovery was excellent. I reported my results to Tim Noakes and we both laughed at the irony that in the Eighties we once lent our names to a high carbohydrate drink called FRN (Fordyce/Rose and Noakes).

In defence of Noakes, who has received plenty of lay and academic criticism for his new ideas, he has been prepared to admit he was wrong in the past. Those who are considering changing to a Banting approach for our two major races for the first time, please don’t.

My understanding of Banting is that there is a period of adaptation to the LCHF lifestyle and it is too late and too dangerous to switch at this late stage. There is no better or more efficient fuel for exercise than your own body fat but while we are carbohydrate dependent it is better to stick to the traditional approach to these major races.

As soon as the Two Oceans and Comrades are behind us the experiments can commence. To the critic who tweeted me “If you expect me to ride a major cycle race on an apple and water alone you must be mad”.

I don’t, certainly not while he is addicted to carbohydrates. But once he has become fat adapted he will find that he won’t even need the apple.