This article has been published by Barry Groves
at his web site
for Athletic Performance
is becoming increasingly competitive. More and more stress is
being placed on how well you perform. To reach your highest potential,
all of your body systems must be perfectly tuned. Nothing is more
important to your well-being and ability to perform than good
nutrition. Eating the right foods helps you maintain desirable
body weight, stay physically fit, and establish optimum nerve-muscle
reflexes. Without the right foods, even physical conditioning
and expert coaching aren't enough to push you to your best. Good
nutrition must be a key part of your training program if you are
come when deciding what is the best nutrition for exercise and
an example of advice that is given to athletes:
There is no one "miracle food" or supplement that
can supply all of your nutritional needs. Certain foods supply
mainly proteins, other foods contain vitamins and minerals, and
so on. The key to balancing your diet is to combine different
foods so that nutrient deficiencies in some foods are made up
by nutrient surpluses in others. Eating a variety of foods is
The nutrients - the proteins, carbohydrates, fats,
vitamins, minerals, and water - are teammates that work together
to provide good nutrition. Just as each team member carries out
different tasks during a game, each nutrient performs specific
functions in your body. A lack of just one nutrient is a disadvantage
to your body, just as losing a player to the penalty box is a
disadvantage for a hockey team. Your body needs all these nutrients
all of the time, so the foods you eat should supply them every
Just because you are not hungry does not necessarily
mean that your body has all the nutrients it needs. You can fill
up on foods that contain mostly carbohydrates and fats, but your
body still has basic needs for proteins, minerals, and vitamins.
Eating Practice Every Day!
The training period offers you an excellent opportunity
to establish sound eating practices that will benefit you on the
playing field as well as give you a measure of well-being throughout
Make Snacks Count
Chose (sic) snacks that contain more than just
calories. When you eat out with friends, choose something nutritionally
sound, like a cheeseburger with a slice of tomato and lettuce
leaf. How many food groups are present in this sandwich? What
might you eat along with this sandwich to make an even better
Look for Extra Food Energy
'Teenage athletes burn up more calories than non-athletic
teens. You can fill this requirement by eating more food from
all food groups. Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for
your body during strenuous exercise. Get most of your extra energy
from foods like starchy vegetables and whole grain or enriched
bread, cereal, rice, or pasta instead of from fatty foods. For
example, on an athlete's plate, a baked potato should get the
nod over french fries.
'Breakfast is especially important because you
need food to start the day. Your body begins the day in a low-energy,
fasted condition. Teens who eat breakfast score higher on physical
fitness tests. Breakfasts can be made up of any combination of
nutritious foods that you enjoy eating. Spaghetti and meatballs,
together with an orange and a glass of milk, is a nutritionally
sound meal for any time of the day-even breakfast!
Check Your Diet Frequently
6 to 11 portions daily
of whole-grain and enriched breads and cereals, such as cooked
or ready to eat cereals, bread, macaroni, grits, spaghetti, crackers,
noodles, and rice. These, it says, 'Contributes complex carbohydrates
(starch and fiber) and significant amounts of protein, B vitamins,
'Spot-check your daily diet at least once a week.
Are you eating at least the minimum number of servings from each
food group each day? How can you use the food guide pyramid as
a tool to make improvements?
'How can you tell if your diet is stacking up? Nutritionists have
developed a food-guide system in the shape of a pyramid that can
help you rate or evaluate your diet. This guide divides food into
five groups on the basis of the nutrients each group provides.
By eating the recommended amounts of food from each group daily,
you can greatly increase your ability to get all the nutrients
your body needs--and that will improve your ability on the playing
'Here is some additional information about the food groups that
can help you improve your diet.'
There then follows specific recommendations based on the all too
familiar food triangle. In this case it involves:
3 to 5 servings daily of
vegetables - including dark green, deep yellow, and starchy vegetables
- and their juices. These, it says: 'Provides vitamins and minerals
that complement other food sources. Good sources of Vitamin C
include tomatoes, broccoli, and brussel (sic) sprouts. Good sources
of Vitamin A include carrots, broccoli, spinach, greens, pumpkin,
and sweet potatoes.
2 to 4 servings daily of
fruits and their juices, which are, apparently a 'Good source
of many vitamins and minerals. Good sources of vitamin C include
citrus fruits and their juices, melons, and strawberries. Apricots
are good sources of vitamin A.'
3 servings daily of Milk,
yogurt, and all types of cheese which 'Provides calcium. Also
contains protein, vitamin A, and riboflavin (B2).'
2 to 3 servings daily of
Beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, dry peas, dry beans, peanuts,
peanut butter. These, the advice says, are a 'Good source of protein.
These foods also contain thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2),
niacin, iron, and zinc.'
The advice continues:
'To meet increased energy needs, most teen athletes require
more than the minimum number of servings listed. In some cases,
a teen athlete may need more than
the recommended number of servings. For most athletes, the increased
energy should come from the vegetable group and the bread, cereal,
rice, and pasta group. Foods in these two groups contain a lot
of starch, which is an excellent source of food energy. Athletes
who participate in very high levels of physical activity and/or
who have the largest body stature will require the highest intake
of food energy.
'Foods that occupy the smallest area at the top of the Food
Guide Pyramid, such as butter, margarine, sweets, and jellies,
should be used sparingly. These foods do provide energy and
some nutrients. However, go easy on these foods and get your
energy from foods that are more nutritious. Your body needs
the additional vitamins and minerals to help it use energy.
Make this food guide pyramid system the basis of your training
The advice above was taken from the prestigious University of
Illinois' Sports and Nutrition website.(1)
Note that there is:
- no mention of the best fuel for the body: fat.
In fact it says earlier that 'Carbohydrates are the most efficient
fuel for your body during strenuous exercise'.
- Not even a mention of the essential fatty acids
that are necessary to sustain life.
- Neither does the advice recommend that the
fruit and vegetables be cooked. As we know any minerals and
vitamins these may contain (and there are actually precious
few to begin with) are not released from uncooked fruit and
Now lets get it right!
I like to think that I am an athlete. I have
eleven International Gold Medals and four World Records for
archery. I couldn't eat the 'six portions of bread' a day,
let alone the rest, even if I wanted to.
But why would I want to? The advice given by the University
of Illinois is nothing but unsubstantiated dogma. It is the
way to failure not only for an athlete but for anyone who
needs energy to work.
of the vast amount of dogma, such as that above, which surrounds
nutrition for athletic performance, you may be surprised to
learn that there is little or no evidence that carbohydrates
are an energy food.
Carbo-loading: the way to failure?
The idea of the advice given above is based
on what is known as 'carbo-loading'. As you may have gathered,
this practice involves eating high carbohydrate meals of such
things as bread, pasta and cereals for a few days immediately
prior to a tournament - in quantities greater than they can
use during those days - so the their bodies have a reserve
on tournament day. Hence the term 'carbo-loading'.
Before we look at the scientific evidence that
there is a much better way, let me tell you a true story.
Cheltenham's Tim Hatcher
is a triathlete. Involving swimming, cycling and
running, the triathlon is a sport that requires
a high degree of strength and stamina over a long
period. Tim was coached and instructed on carbo-loading
to build up a reserve of sugar and thus, energy,
in his body for the trial to come.
'On the run up to my first triathlon', he told me,
'I followed the high carbohydrate low fat eating
routine, with daily training. Prior to the event
I had a pasta lunch, then a banana an hour before
the start. I had a terrible time of it, a slow swim
time, got a stitch soon into the cycle, felt hungry,
had some Kendal mint cake (sugar), and then collapsed
exhausted at the finishing line.'
But that wasn't all. A side effect
he had noticed of his pre-race practice was that
sometimes he 'crashed' not long after a meal with
sweating and a sugar craving. He checked this out
with his doctor who diagnosed reactive hypoglycaemia
(low blood glucose caused as a reaction to a high
carbohydrate meal). This, he was told was not something
to worry about as 'we all suffer from it to a certain
The doctor's reassurance, however,
did not satisfy him. After doing some research,
Tim decided to change his carbo-loading regime for
one that was low in carbohydrate and high in fats
- the sort of regime I have been advocating in these
'This had surprising effects, my
training time started getting better, I felt better,
I lost weight, my body shape was changing, I was
losing my belly, all of which I had not expected.
Also the best thing is that I have not yet had a
reactive hypoglycaemia attack since adopting this
new eating pattern.'
The night before his next triathlon
Tim ate a low-carbohydrate meal of Morrocan stew.
On the morning of the event he breakfasted on feta
cheese, artichoke heart and spinach omelette, fried
in butter, with sliced tomato drizzled with olive
oil and two slices of bread and butter. 'This was
really hard for me, no carbo-loading, how was it
going to work? Would I run out of steam half way
round? Would I "hit the wall"? Would my muscles
run out of fuel and seize up? All were conditions
I had been led to believe could happen without carbo-loading.'
It rained throughout the event. Tim's
swim time was a personal best. Although the cycling
was 'really wet and horrible', with mud on road
at several points, Tim overtook two people on the
stage - and didn't get the stitch which had plagued
his previous race. Tim started the run and thought
'oh no, stitch on its way', but that feeling disappeared
as quickly as it had come and came to nothing. Tim
overtook three people during the running stage.
The end of the run was the end of the race. He finished
feeling great; none of his fears had materialised
and, he said, 'I felt a thousand times better than
the end of the last event, very wet, but very happy,
looking forward to the next'.
Tim's times were much improved -
a personal best - and he assured me that he will
continue with his new eating regime which, he says
'tastes good, it makes me feel good, it makes me
stronger, it is changing my body shape to one I
like, and has no adverse side effects. I would recommend
this to anybody, in fact I already have. I really
does make sense and I feel is a must for any serious
Tim Hatcher is not the only Tim to give up
carbo-loading. Britain's number one tennis player, Tim Henman, who came so close to the final at
Wimbledon in 2001, said in a recent interview: 'I used
to eat more pasta-type food, but I found out more recently
that slow release energy food is good, so I started to eat
more protein and I'd say that I'm eating now probably sixty
percent protein forty percent carbohydrates. I think that
So what is wrong
There are two problems that those who
recommend carbo-loading don't appear to realise:
- Firstly, the body can't store carbohydrates
in large quantities and most people already get more than enough
carbohydrates to fuel their bodies' daily activities. All carbohydrates,
whether they are bread, pasta, sugar or jam when you put them
in your mouth, enter the bloodstream as glucose. And the bloodstream
can only hold so much. The body, being a well-run power plant,
puts the leftovers in storage to use in the future if it's needed.
Some is stored as a type of starch called glycogen, but as it
can't store much of this, the body turns most of the excess
into fat and keeps it on deposit in the body's fat cells. And
we see it walking around the streets wherever we go, hanging
off bodies in a most unattractive way. Put simply, carbo-loading
cannot work simply because excess carbs are not stored in a
readily usable way.
- The second problem lies in how the body uses
its various options for fuel. Each of our body's cells contains
lots of very small power plants called mitochondria.
It is they that produce the energy we need from the food that
we consume. Glucose is usually called the body's 'preferred
fuel' because, if it is available, our bodies have been conditioned
from birth to use it first. But it is not the best fuel. That
distinction belongs to fats - or fatty acids, to give them their
scientific name. Before the mitochondria can use either glucose
or fatty acid as a fuel, it has to be transported into the mitochondria.
Fatty acids are transported into the mitochondria
as completely intact molecules. Glucose, on the other hand, can
be transported only after it has been broken down first into pyruvate
by the process of glycolysis. This is then used anaerobically
to produce energy with lactate as a by-product.
The by-products of the energy-production process when fatty acids
are used are carbon dioxide and water, both of which are easily
excreted. But when glucose is used, the lactic acid produced in
the conversion process can build up in muscle cells and make them
ache. It is this that is the cause of the aching muscles or pain
involved in strenuous exercise - 'the wall' as athletes call it.
This 'wall' severely limits an athlete's performance.
But it is not necessary ever to 'hit the
wall'. If you do, your diet is wrong.
Now let's look at a
It was 1968 at the Mexico City Olympic Games. The
spectators at the marathon went wild as a relatively unknown Ethiopian,
Mamo Walde, won the marathon. Not only was the thirty-six-year-old
runner the oldest man ever to win this prestigious event, he did
it in a time that has not been bettered to this day.
So what was Walde's secret?
Walde grew up in an Ethiopian village. His life
consisted of running after and hunting wild game on foot. His
diet was one high in animal meat and fat, with practically no
carbohydrate. Subsequent tests showed that Walde's body, under
conditions of physical load, readily burned fat as its main energy
source. Walde had no concept of 'hitting the wall'. It had never
happened to him.
And, just like him and Tim Hatcher, it never happen to you
A real energy diet
- a diet for winning
While there is little or no scientific evidence
that carbohydrates are a particularly good energy food, there
is a great deal that fats are.
What may not be immediately obvious is that, with the correct
diet, constant exercise and practice to maintain muscle suppleness,
strength and stamina doesn't seem to be needed either.
It is well known that carnivorous animals - lions and tigers -
if fed their natural diet of fat meat, even when confined in cages
or small pens in zoos for long periods of time, without the opportunity
to exercise, do not lose their vigour, strength and endurance.
Such animals in circuses are even more confined but they are still
able to make prodigious leaps when called upon to do so.
Eskimo sled dogs are normally kept on leashes or in small kennels
during the summer months and fed fat meat and fish. When, after
some months of such inactivity, the winter arrives and they are
required to pull sleds again, they have no need of a period of
training or conditioning before they go about their arduous task.
And they still manage to pull heavy sleds for up to twelve hours
a day. The same applies to English hunting dogs. They do not lose
their ability to run hard for long distances when correctly fed.
The same is true of Man. The Eskimo spends most of the year in
practical inactivity during the winter months. Confined to his
snow-covered hut or igloo, eating meat, fish and fat, he rarely
ventures outside for months at a time. But when spring arrives,
he immediately begins a very strenuous life, travelling many miles
to hunting grounds. He, too needs no period of conditioning after
his long winter of inactivity. He also requires less sleep and
is much more resistant to fatigue.
In 1895 two Norwegians, Fridtjof Nansen and Frederik Johansen,
landed on an island of the Franz Joseph group.(2)
They had 'conventional' provisions to last for several weeks but,
as there was abundant game in the form of walrus and polar bear,
they decided to live off the land and save their provisions until
the following summer. From the end of August 1895 until the spring
break up of the arctic ice they got no exercise, did not wash
themselves or change their clothes, yet they remained in perfect
health and were able to do a full day's sledging on their first
day of travel.
Rear Admiral Robert Peary also noted the ability of Arctic explorers
to subsist for more than a year with no food other than pemmican
twice a day. Men doing heavy work required two pounds of pemmican,
which was the equivalent of six pounds of meat and a pound of
fat per day.(3)
This ability to do fantastic feats of strength and endurance was
not confined to the Arctic. Native porters in Australia, eating
only kangaroo meat, carried heavy loads for up to twelve hours
without rest or refreshment; and Aborigines in the desert, would
lope for distances of up to twenty miles, with occasional bursts
of speed to catch game, on a handful of worms, bugs and insects,
and kangaroo meat.(4)
What all these people (and animals) have in common is their carbohydrate
free diet. Fat is the best fuel for an athlete, carbohydrates
are the worst. It really is as simple as that.
Still not convinced?
Athletes are told to eat a diet high in carbohydrates
and low in fats. This, they are told, will increase their performance.
However, this was not confirmed in a dietary study published in
Using three diets: normal, high-fat and high-carbohydrate, the
study showed that the high-carbohydrate diet increased performance
by an average ten percent over a normal mixed diet. Not bad, you
might think, but the high-fat diet increased performance by a
massive thirty-three percent. That's much better. The authors
conclude that restriction of dietary fat may be detrimental to
Experience from around the world confirms it
There is just one caveat. It takes time for the body to change
from burning inefficient carbs to burning fats efficiently. You
should notice a marked increase in performance after about 26
weeks on a low-carb, high-fat diet, but maximum performance will
not be reached for about a year.
accessed February 2002
2. Stefansson V.
Cancer: Disease of Civilisation. Hill & Wang, New
3. Military Surgeon, August
1944, Quoted in Walter L Voegtlin. The Stone Age Diet.
The Epic of Man. Time Inc. New York, 1961
5. Muoio D M, et
al. Effect of dietary fat on metabolic adjustments to maximal
VO-2 and endurance in runners. Medicine and Science in Sports
and Exercise. 1994; 26 (1): 81-88