I have had many an enjoyable rant over the past months and years concerning the idiocy of food exclusion diets in general and the low-carb fad in particular. So why did I even contemplate giving this a go?
Looking back over the 2013 season, it’s abundantly clear that my biggest weakness was running. This is partly due to my previous sporting background – elite rowers, especially small ones, tend to transfer very well to cycling, and the swimming lessons I’d had as a child helped more than I’d anticipated.
However, this didn’t fully explain the difference: my swim was strong, my bike was stronger and my run was mediocre at best. For the 2014 season I need a step change in my running.
Consulting a running expert, we developed the following plan of attack:
- Change my running shoes to Asics – one pair for longer runs, and a lighter pair for intervals
- Change my run training from predominantly long, slow distance to intervals and runs off the bike
- Lose a lot of weight very quickly, so that the impact on my training closer to race season is minimised
Estimates vary wildly regarding the effect that losing x amount of weight will have on y marathon time, but there appears to be a consensus that, all else being equal, the less you weigh, the faster you will go.
The diet I was to follow was not one I’d heard of before: for 3-4 weeks, to achieve rapid weight loss (NOT to “convert my body to run on fat” or any other such unscientific nonsense), I was allowed meat, fish, any fruit except bananas, any veg except potatoes. I could eat as much as I liked, but only of these foods. Dubious but desperate, I decided to try it.
The impact on my training, my bank balance and my mood was immediate and devastating. I was light-headed, nauseous and unable to concentrate. My long bike ride the following Sunday was close to my slowest ever. And it rapidly became apparent that the cost of fuelling a 20-hour training week on high quality food that doesn’t include fat or carbohydrate is astronomical.
Still, I thought, it was my first long ride since the break after Kona; never mind that I’d smashed the first few, slightly shorter rides, it must be just the lost fitness from 2 weeks of rest. The scales still read the same, but I figured there was more fibre inside me with all the extra fruit and veg I’d been scoffing. I stuck to it for another week. In my defence, my brain was starved of sugar by this point!
The following Sunday’s ride was even slower. Training felt like going through the motions and a route that had previously been well under 4 ½ hours now took over 5. That afternoon, at Sunday lunch with friends, I watched Ed refuelling properly on a delicious roast dinner while I picked at the meat and veg, then went home and binged on salad and ratatouille. Rage ensued.
The next day, after two weeks of rigorously sticking to a diet that was supposed to show drastic results within 3-4 weeks, the only thing that was any lighter was my wallet.
I floated around doing some swim drills first thing, then ran a very slow mile repeats session in a hypoglycaemic haze, focusing only on finishing the session and trying to drive myself home safely.
I’d called Ed before leaving to go running and explained how terrible I was feeling. Some further research on his part suggested that my body had probably gone into starvation mode: whatever it had done, it was clinging onto the weight as stubbornly as I was sticking to the rules of the diet.
We therefore decided that I was “officially allowed to stop doing the stupid diet” and that the “calories in < calories out” method was, as I had previously suspected, the only sensible way to lose weight.
24 hours later, I have had some proper food, though still less than I need to maintain weight: I don’t deny that I need to shift it to optimise my performance. The first decent turbo session for 2 weeks has been done and my post-training-tiredness is back to a manageable level. Perhaps most importantly I have stopped bursting into tears and am now merely hungry rather than homicidal…