One of the hardest things since starting to eat in my current manner is getting others to understand not just the science that backs it up, but also to put it in a way that makes sense. It is not because people are not intelligent enough to “get it”, but it’s a constant battle against the conventional wisdom that pervades the consciousness of athletes. What is constantly amazing to me is how some take it as a personal attack when you make a statement that goes against conventional wisdom. The argument against sugar is the most common. There are those that, no matter what evidence you show them, will refuse to believe that sugar harms you in the way that numerous studies show that it does. There is a lot of science behind it, but the bottom line is this: if the food you are eating causes a spike in your insulin, it’s sole purpose is to create and store fat. That’s insulin’s job. So, if you eat sugar, it spikes insulin production to lower your blood sugar to a normal level, and shuttles the fat into your fat cells for storage.
The issue is the 20% of the population that can successfully handle eating sugar. This percentage is stated in a number of sources, most notably the books “Wheat Belly” and “Fat Chance”. So, for example, you have a trainer that tells you to take one GU every thirty minutes, or to use Gatorade when working out. This is based on the fact that THEY may be part of the 20%, and it works for them, so they assume you are also one of the 20%. You follow their guidelines, and boom, you cannot lose weight, or you actually gain weight (like I do). This is when the trainer usually states something along the lines of “well, you must be cheating”. That might be the case of course, but it probably is a better chance that you are part of the 80%.
This happened recently when I questioned a trainer’s email someone sent me that recommended to them to “make sure you drink Gatorade”. I commented that I couldn’t believe they recommended Gatorade (basically sugar water … fruit punch will give you the same ingredients). The response from them was to send me a picture of the trainer (magnificent shape). Obviously, one of the 20%, but of course the underlying belief here is “see, it works for them, so it must be OK”.
As a side note on this, though, I suspect that this person is also one of the 20% peeps, and the workout was outstanding, since it used the “super set” method which I believe in.
We all know these people. They go on 50 mile bike rides and consume bars, and GU’s, and Gatorade, and kill the training. But when you mimic them you bonk at mile 12. It’s not always because your training failed. It is much more likely that you cannot handle the same type of fueling the other person does. Actually, if you’re in a group of 20 riders, 16 of them are predictably more likely to NOT be able to handle it. Yet you see it all the time on the trainer rides don’t you. Flocks of 30 riders flying around with the back of their jersey’s stuffed with bars and GU’s.
I fell into this trap in my second year of triathlon. The whole first year, because I was new, I saw massive improvements race to race. I was eating low carb at that time because it was something from my past that I knew worked on me. Entering my second season it got in my head, as did some fellow athletes, that I was now a “triathlete” and should follow what other triathletes did for training. I stocked up on GU’s and Gels, loaded my water bottles with sugar laden drinks, and stuffed my bento box with Clif Bar’s. Each race got worse and worse. Slower and slower. On top of that, after going from 303 pounds to 235 pounds in year 1 I shot back up to 263 pounds by the end of the season. I was definitely one of the 80%.
It was a main goal in season three and four to get this under control. I am now at 258 pounds but feel much better, more energy, times not getting better race to race but feeling better afterwards and recovering faster. My target is to get to 210 pounds in 2015 and stay there. I am also hitting the reset button in 2015, seeking the help of another coach (Meghan Collins Fanning of ZenduranceNow), and returning to sprint triathlons until I get to the point where I can finish strong. The way I need to do this is to be come “fat adapted”. A few people have done this recently, testing this method. Vinnie Tortorich is a big proponent of this method, using it during a 508 mile bike race. Ben Greenfield also tested it during a recent Ironman and used it at Kona in 2014 (note: I am not a huge fan of Ben’s methods, most notably his penchant for “biohacking”). It works. I read an article today that had an analogy that perfectly describes why you would want to race this way.
My “go to” description had always been the campfire story. If you want to build a fire you can use pine needles or logs. Both will burn, but if you use pine needles you have to keep putting pine needles onto the flame to keep it burning. But, if you use a log, it will burn long and hot and needs very little refueling. Sugar, in this example, is a pine needle. Fat is the log. Your body can only hold about 2,000 kcals worth of carbs at one time, so when training or racing you have to keep refueling. Your body can hold in excess of 20-30,000 kcals of fat. Doesn’t it make sense to use these kcals for energy and not have to worry about replenishing? You need to teach your body how to access this energy store. The new analogy goes like this:
A high carb, low fat diet is like a tanker truck. It can only go so many miles. Once it runs out of gas, even though it has a tank of gas it is pulling, it will be on the side of the road because it has no way to access all the fuel it is carrying.
A low carb, high fat diet is the same tanker truck that has access to the same, almost unlimited supply, of fuel and can go for miles further without stopping to refuel.
20% of you reading this will feel the opposite, and because it flies in the face of common practice there are many reading this shaking their heads. I know. I can feel it. There are people out there believing that you should eat 80-10-10 (up to 1100 kcals of carbs a day). It might work for some, but for the MAJORITY it will not.
Still, all in all, it still comes down to finding what works for you. The science is the science, but there are always going to be people that fall on the tail of the bell curve.