The LCHF Diet for elite athletes in high intensity sport

On this episode of The Ask Prof Noakes Podcast we look at athletes in high intensity sports, and ask Prof. Tim Noakes about combining the LCHF diet with eating and drinking more carbs around matches and training. We find out the best way to take those carbs in.

Banting for elite athletes in high intensity sports

Mark Pearn is a former full time international field hockey player. He represented England at two Olympic games as well as winning a Bronze medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

Mark spent his whole life being told to eat a massive amount of carbohydrates, like most of us have, and has been on the Banting or LCHF diet for six months now. He has seen an amazing improvement in health, sleep, inflammation, digestion and weight management.

However, he is still playing elite level club field hockey and he is struggling with energy for high intensity training and matches. He cannot find any studies or examples of elite level athletes in high intensity sports, competing only on a very low carb diet.

Can Mark combine an everyday LCHF diet with eating and drinking more carbs around matches and training? If so, what would be the best way to take those carbs in and what time prior to intense exercise?

Prof Tim Noakes: That is a question that we are getting increasingly now and it is true that some people, in fact, can do high intensity exercise on the Banting or LCHF diet but by and large the majority say they do lose their top gear, so to speak.

Should you increase your carbohydrate intake?

They are not quite as explosive on the field and I think the answer is that perhaps you cut your carbs a little bit lower and maybe on the days that you play or the day before you need to just add a little bit more carbohydrate.

I will just give an example, I know that one world class triathlete wrote to me and he said that he cut his carbs to 25 grams a day and he could barely get out of bed the next day when he was on that diet and he pushed it up to 125 grams a day which is still very little carbohydrate compared to, we used to say you need to eat 500 grams a day, well now he is eating 125 grams, he says his training has been amazing.

I think Mark, what you probably need to do, is to take a bit more carbohydrate the night before you play big games and see what happens. I am not so convinced about taking carbohydrates during the event. It is a brain stimulant, so if you are actually missing the brain stimulation, then maybe it will work, it will help you a bit but you have to check that out but definitely, why do you not try, say eat 200 grams a day before you have a big competition and see what happens?

Certainly, those 200 grams are not going to affect your health in any material way, if you go back to eating your normal diet on most days.

So yes, take some more carbohydrates the day before; even take some the morning of the event.

I am not convinced about needing sugar during your match but you just you might try it and see what happens. Again, as I have said if it works during exercise, it is much more likely it is acting in your brain to give you a mental lift.

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