by Joshua Hagen
“ Yeah, it never fails to amaze me how a single lie can undo an entire lifetime of good." SHERRILYN KENYON, Upon the Midnight Clear
I believe that perfectly sums up our recent misconceptions on diet. Fat isn't the problem, Sugar is! In Canada we were indoctrinated with the Canada food guide for a decades telling us things like “a glass of juice is the equivalent of 2 servings of fruit”. Fruit juice is packed with sugar, as a single glass of juice is made up of a number of fruits, but it is missing the fibre and phytonutrients of a raw fruit.
In the hopes of living a healthier lifestyle my family started researching more and more which led us to is something called the KETO diet. Keto is an ULTRA LOW CARB diet. There are many different versions of the diet a 4-1 ratio a 3-1 ratio and then one called the modified Atkins as some examples. The basic principle is that you eat a lot of fat, a small amount of protein and almost no carbohydrates at all (20 net grams a day). Now while I haven’t been strictly following a hard 4-1 rule I have been limiting my carbs by not keeping classic carbohydrates in the house and have been actively eating more fats.
Why is it called KETO? It is called KETO because the body produces small food molecules called KETONES, when there is a short supply of glucose in the body. The body produces KETONES in the liver from fat, (which is why you eat so much of it) next it will target stored body fat, this leads often to weight loss.
What is the major way to cut your carbs down to such extreme levels? Stop eating bread, potatoes, rice, sweet drinks and no more adding sugar to any foods.
Now what are some of the scary things that we hear when we talk about decreasing our carbohydrate intake? A HUGE LOSS in ENERGY! That is probably the biggest one. This is problematic in sport.
For me this has not only been untrue but in fact I would say the opposite. We ride a rollercoaster of energy levels all day everyday based on the food we ingest. Often times we don’t eat out of hunger, but we also eat because we feel a drop in our energy levels, or drowsy especially after lunch.
This is a symptom of the food that we eat. Who isn’t sleepy after their big turkey dinner. It isn’t because of the TRYPTOPHAN, There is actually more tryptophan in chicken. So why are we so sleepy? Because of the dinner rolls, stuffing, carrots, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and gravy thickened with flour. That is carbs on top of carbs packaged in carbs. Staying awake after that is a modern miracle. I have been drinking less coffee than I have in years and rarely have an afternoon lull.
Another benefit is that foods that are rich in fat are also rich in flavour, whipping cream, pork belly, nuts and cheese are delicious. Not feeling guilty about the amount of dressing on my caesar salad (sans croutons) was beautiful music to my ears.
I have two athletes that are NOT on a KETO diet but have implemented a diet that heavily reduces carbohydrates. One of the athletes does so as a lifestyle change. He has cut on processed sugar and reduced the amount of starches in his diet. While doing so he also added creatine because he is a heavyweight and we don’t want him to lose too much weight, as well we want him to improve his strength. Creatine is known for causing the retention of water and promoting weight gain. My athlete has lost over 6kg in a month while taking creatine.
The other athlete decided to do so in the lead up to competition as a way to get his weight down for a week before weigh in. In the second case he removes processed sugar, and eats almost no carbs. We found with a walking weight in the 78kg range he was able to get down to 74kg the night before weigh in. Both athletes mention that while eating this weigh their energy levels are actually better than when they are not on the diet.
Some of the methods people have used to cut weight over the years, like massively reducing their food intake for upwards of a week leading into a tournament, followed by hours of sweating water weight has two major drawbacks. First and most importantly it can be very dangerous. We have all heard stories of athletes going into cardiac arrest, either following or while running in garbage bags in the hot sun to cut weight. The second is that not eating and drinking properly for such a long period of time can have a major impact on performance.
So while some athletes have their own tried and true methods to regulating their weight, or dropping it leading it into a tournament. I strongly believe that cutting carbs is a safe alternative that will not negatively affect performance in tournaments.