By: Roger Scholtz
On Thursday 3 May, Stella AC hosted an information evening that was addressed by Dr Glen Hagemann, a sports physician at the Sharks Medical Centre. His presentation was entitled “Low carb, high fat diets in elite and recreational endurance athletes.” The basis of the presentation is that the conventional wisdom of the importance and necessity of eating a carbohydrate-rich diet for athletic performance is being questioned and challenged. Increasingly, scientific studies and compelling anecdotal evidence suggest that a LCHF (low carb high fat) diet represents a more efficient alternative for fueling our bodies’ energy needs. Dr Hagemann’s stated objective was to present some of the evidence behind this approach to diet and nutrition, not to tell anyone what they should do, but so that people might be better informed as they consider their own dietary choices.
At the core of the LCHF approach is the understanding that in a low-carb environment the body is capable, over time, to adapt to burning fat as an immediate energy source, which is referred to as becoming “fat adapted”. One of the key advantages and benefits of this is that body fat is available in an abundantly more plentiful supply than the glycogen reserves (the energy source produced by carbohydrates) that can be stored in our muscles and liver. (This abundant supply of body fat is especially true for some of us!) The LCHF approach conditions our bodies to be able to tap into this bountiful energy reserve. A helpful analogy was given of a petrol-driven truck pulling a tanker of diesel, with the observation made that if the truck could find a way to access and use the diesel it was pulling around, it could continue driving almost indefinitely.
The presentation included a helpful mix of the science behind this approach, some of the latest research data to emerge in this field, and anecdotal stories of athletes (both elite and recreational) whose performance in endurance events like Comrades, Two Oceans and Iron Man have improved significantly on a LCHF diet. The down-side to a LCHF diet involves the tough lifestyle choices of changing the way one eats, having to say ‘No’ to things like the bread basket, sugary drinks and snacks, grains and pasta, and even (maybe) beer! The upside is that the strip of fat on your rump steak can be enjoyed guilt-free – not to mention other common benefits such as weight loss, added energy and improved running performance. At the end of the day, everyone needs to decide for themselves whether this particular fuel price has gone up or down, and whether or not they are willing to reconfigure their body’s internal combustion engine.
Many thanks for a highly informative and worthwhile event.