HFLC Part 2 – Food for thought.

A few weeks back I wrote this post. For anyone yet to read it, I decided to try out a low-fat high carb diet in order to see whether my skepticism was well founded. Truthfully it will be difficult to come to much of a conclusion about the last two weeks owing to the overindulgence of the last few days. Christmas is nothing if not a time for Chocolate.

Anyway – what actually changed? My caloric intake was much the same, averaging somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 depending on whether or not I was training on that particular day. I tried to keep my protein intake fairly constant (making up 20-25% of total calories), whilst reducing carbs (from 60 down to approx 35%) and upping fat (20 to 45%). There is no agreed definition of that which precisely constitutes a low-carb diet, I had to be realistic and accept that I didn’t have the self discipline to completely cut out all my favourite foods (that is to say fruit, bread and pasta).

Two days after starting the new regime I went out on the bike for the first time. According to advocates, this diet does take some time to adapt to – hence feeling rubbish was to be expected. My legs very heavy, I certainly lacked any oomph at higher intensities. That said, my power numbers weren’t significantly poorer than usual. As time has progressed I’ve felt gradually better – at this point I’m not noticing much difference from before.

Off the bike there have been some positive changes. Eating a high fat breakfast (i.e. bacon and eggs) certainly leaves me feeling far more satisfied than my usual (i.e. yoghurt with fruit and honey). Throughout the first few days there were some serious cravings to contend with, saying no to chocolate on all but a few occasions did take a good bit of willpower. Once this threshold was passed the cravings did lessen. I genuinely felt more in control of my own eating, with markedly reduced hunger. Sadly my discipline was forgotten for purposes of Christmas and the two days that followed. Now I’ll have to wean myself off sugar all over again.

My mood was certainly more stable when eating less sugar, highs and lows were far less pronounced – I’ll liken it to being closer to a set-point. The same goes for my energy levels, off the bike I found day to day living to be pleasantly easier. My sleep experienced a similar improvement, being a life long insomniac that one did come as a surprise. In the interest of full disclosure, I have read accounts of similar experiences on this diet and as such cannot rule out the placebo effect.

I haven’t lost any weight but given the time of year I wasn’t expecting to. Come the next post I should have a better idea of whether or not this diet is having the desired affect. Having allowed myself some festive indulgence, it’s now back to a more healthy regime. With the season potentially starting in February, it is time to start training harder and losing some of that ‘winter insulation’.

Bottom line – Christmas has got in the way but casting that aside I’m cautiously optimistic about the effects of this diet. Just to reiterate this first post however, I am not advising anyone to try it. What works for one individual may be highly detrimental to another.

On a different note – Happy new year to all my readers. As ever, stay tuned for more.

HFLC Experiment – part 1

By enlarge I’m very good at sticking to the advice on this website. I plan my training, test my fitness regularly, rest when I need to and generally try and be the best rider that I can. You might have noticed that there is one very large area that I have so far left out – Nutrition. There are two primary reasons for this; for starters I’ve not yet had the opportunity to study it in great detail, secondly I am terrible when it comes to following any sort of dietary plan.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times that I used to be rather large – 80 kg to be precise, at the modest height of 5.’6. Don’t get me wrong – I try my best yet still can’t resist the lure of a slice of chocolate cake (or 3 as if has been known to turn out). Recently, it has turned into a balancing act – making sure I ride far enough to burn off all those calories. I’d never be classified as overweight, in fact people often point out that there is ‘nothing of me’. Yet somehow I just don’t feel healthy – eating lots of sugar almost never fails to put me in a bad mood and leave me unable to concentrate. Much as I enjoy bread, pasta and rice they often leave me feeling bloated.

There has been much hype in the news recently about the possible benefits of a High-fat Low-carb (HFLC) diet. As we all know, saturated fat has been demonised in recent years. However, it seems that the recommendation to cut it from out diets was not entirely based on sound research. Just type “saturated fat and chd” into google for more information – I’m not going to try and explain it all in the course of a single post, far better to take it from respected sources.

As a Cyclist – I’ve always been lead to believe that a high carb diet is best for performance. What I have read so far suggests that a higher fat diet will not directly make you faster and that it is best to make exceptions (i.e. consume more carbs) before, during and immediately after Cycling. My interest lies more in the supposed increased ease of weight control, I’d like to see if it is possible to get back down to Race weight without deliberately restricting my calorie intake and living with the resulting hunger.

To that end, I’ve decided to try this diet and see what happens. Going into it I am skeptical – it is hard to believe that the advice I have grown up with may be largely wrong. I am not a convert to or follower of this way of thinking – I’ll give equal attention to both pros and cons which I may experience. ¬†Every couple of weeks I’ll write a post detailing how this ‘experiment’ is going. I am hoping that writing about it will make me that bit more motivated to stick to the plan.

What exactly is this plan? I hear you ask. For the next month (starting today) my diet will consist of the following:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Full-fat dairy (i.e. double cream, butter)

Likewise I’ll be excluding these:

  • Grains (pasta, bread, cereal, rice etc)
  • Fruit – apart from during and immediately after rides.
  • Low-fat dairy (i.e. skimmed milk)
  • White potatoes
  • Energy bars and gels

It is going to be a tall order to say the least – especially at this time of year, my thinking is that if I can follow this diet during the festive period then sticking to it will aways feel easy thereafter. I’m going to be realistic, there is no way I’ll be-able to completely avoid the foods listed above. To that end – I’ll allow myself three ‘open meals’ each week. I will also make a small exception when it comes to eating immediately after a ride, allowing myself a milk-based recovery drink and some fruit within a specified time window.

Just to be clear, all this series of posts will really tell you is whether or not this diet works for me. Every individual is different and just because something works or doesn’t work for one person doesn’t mean that you should or shouldn’t change anything. There are just as many sceptics of this approach as there are advocates, the debate is unresolved. Nutritional studies tend to be observational in nature, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. ¬†Also, beware of reading blogs by anyone who calls themselves a Nutritionist – it isn’t a protected term, meaning that anyone can claim to be one regardless of actual qualifications and knowledge. If I give out any advice over the course of this series of posts I will state my source or at the very least provide a link to wherever the information came from.

Here are some books and articles that may be of interest: