Endurance Eating on a Low Carb Lifestyle
Endurance Eating on a Low Carb Lifestyle: Incredible Yachtsmen Sailing the Cape To Rio on a LCHF endurance eating plan powered by The Noakes Foundation
By Jayne Bullen, General Manager of The Noakes Foundation
Just under a year ago the incredible Vulcan sailing team came to The Noakes Foundation and told us they wanted to sail the Cape to Rio on a LCHF diet and only take low carb healthy foods on board. Of course, we were excited and jumped at the opportunity.
After agreeing to provide the team with nutritional guidance, we assessed the gigantic task at hand. Seven men and one woman were to embark on a race across the world on a yacht with only low carb food on board. Once the race starts, there would be no alternatives or no back-ups along the way so we absolutely had to devise the perfect meal plan, taking into consideration the challenging conditions on board the boat and the nutritional requirements of each crew member. Their bodies also had to be prepared, making sure they had adjusted to the LCHF lifestyle and were physically ready for the challenge.
We got our doctor, dietician and a few endurance experts to help us and, guided by Prof Noakes and his incredible knowledge of sports science and his ability to do the unimaginable, we set sail on this journey with them.
They had less than three tonnes of food space available on the majestic Lion of Africa Vulcan that the were living on and racing to Rio in. This sounds like a lot, but considering the crew needed up to 6,000 calories a day to get them through the level of endurance on the approximately fourteen days on board for the race, therefore we had to carefully consider the quality and weight of the food. There would be no supply stop or food available along the way. Their only contact with the outside world being a satellite phone for emergencies and to send a daily update to the ground crew reporting on progress and how the meals and energy levels were going.
A Noakes Foundation’s LCHF specialist dietician spent a lot of time working out the right combinations and ratios of snacks and meals for the team. Tamzyn Murphy Campbell, who is a registered LCHF dietician and is also on the team conducting a large Type 2 diabetes trial for the Foundation, worked day and night leading up to the race to get the food correct and low carb compliant.
The process was imperfect because of how reliant we were on the only few companies globally that do freeze dried meals. Naturally, their offering was carb-laden so there were a lot of factors to consider to modify the pre-packaged meals.
Other issues we had to consider was the heat on board – anything that was not heat resistant and packaged in waterproof packaging would not be taken on board. Our affiliates Banting Blvd worked hard on some incredible new products that would endure the race and remain fresh and delicious in the conditions on board.
Not all of the team were eating low carb prior to our meeting, however most were in good health with no major health issues so it was an easy transition to the LCHF lifestyle.
Over six months ago the full team committed to eating LCHF and took to it like ducks to water, saying that they felt great and had more energy.
The Foundation has absolutely loved the journey of working with such articulate, amazing and inspiring athletes. We are often working on the front lines of the diabolic state of health and disease in our country and often work with those who have severe health issues. Diabetes, chronic disease and other effects of the devastating diet most of our country is eating are the negative cases we are often confronted with. We deal with the poorest in communities with limited access to healthcare, people who are losing limbs and battling to survive in such adverse conditions. It’s been amazing to work with a group of committed, elite athletes who are refining and honing their bodies and performance to perfection rather than managing disease. We are inspired and grateful to have worked with Hylton and the rest of the passionate team.
As part of the planning and prep for the big race, Prof Noakes, the Foundation’s team of doctors and dieticians spent time preparing and advising the team on what to expect and how to prepare for the actual event.
A typical day on the yacht involves between three and four hours sleep in shifts in very humid bumpy conditions in the hull. Breakfast is a porridge that was produced specially for the race by Banting Blvd, which contains added fat for energy which contributes towards the extra calories needed for each day to maintain energy and weight. Crew members also sipped on bullet-proof coffee with extra oils added to give them an extra energy kick. A Banting Granola with hot water and honey was also available for breakfast, giving the crew some much-needed variation.
The crew would eat one freeze dried meal a day on top of their snacks and solid breakfast, typically a beef stroganoff, beef hotpot or a bolognese style dish. Low carb on an endurance race of this kind is ideally aiming for around 200gram of carbs a day. The crew had a slightly higher carb allowance than what is usually permitted with a Banting diet, this was because of the high amount of exercise each person would be doing a day. The problem we see for most endurance foods on the market is that they are carb-laden which do not offer athletes sufficient and sustained energy needed for the long stretches and limited weight available on the yachts.
The Vulcan’s only cooking facility was boiling water, which is supported by a desalinator, so variety and options are limited and snacks need to be able to sustain heat and extreme humidity in the hull. Other snacks that supported the team were high fat granola bars which were also developed by Banting Blvd, nut mixes and Buttanut nut butter sachets for a good fat and energy boost when needed.
Other important aspects to the carefully crafted menu are the oils the crew were supplementing with for extra calories and energy: olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil and butter are key components to provide nutrients and keep focus and energy levels up.
“Olive oil provides 600 calories, and the bulletproof coffee provides 1500 calories of fat to each crew member’s diet daily. That’s a really important 2100 Cal of fat daily.’ Said Murphy-Campbell who worked tirelessly on perfecting the teams daily eating schedules and was challenged by the enormity of calories needed to sustain the athletes. ‘Biltong and droerwors were also essential components for the crew to get sufficient protein to support their requirements and physical activity’.
Another challenge for the crew was that the freeze dried food and lack of refrigeration facilities on board meant that little to no vegetables or fruits were on the daily diet: a very good multi-vitamin supplement was added to the daily plan to support them over this time.
Hylton Hale wrote to us from the Vulcan saying “The LCHF diet is really working, Johnny keeps commenting on how great the food is. We don’t eat together only as and when we need to. We eat individually, for example when coming off watch. The snacks, especially the trail mix, are very popular. Sarah uses the granola mix for her breakfast as well, she mixes it all up with honey and water. All the guys have the Banting Blvd porridge each morning with hot water, which keeps us going for most of the morning. During the day we just snack on the nuts, biltong and trail mixes and then around sunset we will eat the freeze dried meal for the day. We have changed from the two hot meals a day to one, it is more convenient for each crew member to rather have a whole pack for themselves, rather than sharing a pack twice a day. What we miss most is anything cold, most of the guys just yearn for an ice cold beer. Funny no talk of steaks, burgers or pizzas!”
Ingrid Hale, who has managed the ground communications and was the only point of daily contact with the team, informed us about how challenging the morale has been and how the occasional no sugar hot chocolate and similar treat has helped the team psychologically in the last few days. Compared to other boats on the race that mainly have “pasta, rusks, Cuppa Soups, chocolates, two-minute noodles, etc. on board as their main nutrition for the race”. These kinds of sugary high carb foods will be doing the other crews no favours as they will struggle with the energy slumps soon after the sugar rush has ended.
After completing the race, team captain Hylton Hale commented about their experience: “You are constantly winding winches, adjusting or replacing sails and moving weight around the boat to maximize performance. Even just moving yourself from one area of the boat to another is like doing a full workout. This is where the LCHF eating plan comes in. With thanks to the TheNoakesFoundation for their assistance with meal plans and advice on how to get the most out of a LCHF eating plan to provide the necessary energy and stamina.
[The team] felt constantly energized, physically strong and they enjoyed the effect of this way of eating on their bodies. A few initially sceptical crew members admitted that it worked out way better than they thought it would.
A desalinator made fresh water for the boat but another challenge came in as to how to replenish the minerals lost in the desalinating process. Potassium, magnesium and a good multivitamin were prescribed by the Foundation to replace what was lost. This was important as a side effect of a lack of magnesium is cramping which nobody wants when you are expected to perform at 150% all the time.
All in all adapting a LCHF diet for an extreme sport like sailing to cross an ocean for 15 days at full steam ahead, was a very positive experience! Thanks again to TheNoakesFoundation, Bantingblvd and Pathcare for your guidance, enthusiasm and support!”
The Lion of Africa Vulcan team finished in third place, an amazing achievement given their temporary setback when the crew stopped racing to investigate a distress flare that had gone off in the middle of the ocean. We admire the team for their absolutely amazing compassion to put the possible safety of another person ahead of their strong desire to win the race. The team endured a gruelling 15 days at sea, surviving and thriving in one of the most challenging endurance events in the world. Lion of Africa crossed the finish line at 10:52:06 UTC on the 16th of January 2017. The first South African boat to cross the line!
The Noakes Foundation works with and is supported by an extraordinary team and network of elite and endurance athletes, leaders, teams and groups that are wanting to WIN and go past their comfort zones.
Contact us if you want to find out more and want to engage in a big ambitious adventure, race or goal. We may be the right people to help you get the edge you need to win!