Can high protein, low carb or Paleo regime benefit runners?

I'm interested to find out whether any runners out there - particularly marathon or ultra runners have experienced improved performance and lower race times after adopting a low carb, high protein or Paleo diet? South Africa's Professor Tim Noakes is a great advocate of this, not just for running but for general health benefits - particularly for overweight or 'pre-diabetic' people.  It's a hot topic at the moment and we are all looking for that edge!




    There is nothing in this statement that suggests he runs quicker times from not eating carbs which is what most of us probably aspire to.

  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    There was some interesting chat around this on the Talk Ultra podcast a while ago might be worth listening to that.
  • Yes, that was Professor Tim Noakes. There are many runners out there who have adopted this new eating regime and who are running better and faster - including 9 times Comrades champion Bruce Fordyce ...

  • personallyI would want to see how the studies show a  long term effect on the me thats more important than a short term gain of a few seconds speed

  • I would imagine that its weight loss in general where the benefits come from - its much harder to eat excessive calories with low carb diets as you feel full earlier with protein...I doubt there is any benefit to the diet in and of itself other than the weight loss consequence.

    Also, I dont think there are any issues with eating less carbs and training hard, but I wouldnt recommend dropping them off quickly as it tkes time for the body to adapt to new fuel sources.

    However, personally both for cost and taste I prefer to just eat less and run more if I am trying to shift a few lbs to get that edge before race day!


  • I've been following this with interest too, more of what Noakes has been talking about is linked to insulin/diabetes, and the running aspect has been something discussed alongside. What makes sense to me is that your body should be encouraged to burn your biggest energy store, fat, on long distance events. For me personally I haven't been brave enough to race a marathon yet without carb loading even though I am trying lower carb/no sugar. I don't fancy the idea of nuts and cheese whilst running either as opposed to the trusty gels.

  • I dont eat on the run, I know Bruce Fordyce claims he doesnt eat during comrades (because he said as much when I met him at a talk once) dont need to be on a low carb diet to train your body to burn fat though.

    You just need to run on an empty stomach, especially long runs and refuel normally afterwards.

  • seren nos - It's not just about weight loss as many people with auto immune diseases such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis have seen benefits. Believe it or not, stuides have shown cholesterol levels and blood pressure to come down as a result, even though the regime recommends fat as a fuel source rather than carbs.

    KateF - Yes, the fat burning thing does make complete sense but like you, I am retiscent to give up my gels. I have tried date-based fruit bars on long runs and they seem to have quite a good effect.

    Curly 45 - I agree that anyone considering this should do it gradually. My diet for example is 'healthy' but very much carb based and I haven't yet tried to eliminate sugar as I think it would be incredibly difficult!

  • Karen G.......I am thinking of the long term efects on the body from cutting out one of our major food sources..........

    I think that a lot of those who benefited in the trials would probably of benefited similary form a healthy all round eating regime where they ahve eaten a balanced diet than the unhealthy one they were on before................

    i could give up the gels at any time because i rarely ever have more than 1 in a race......

  • seren nos - according to ProfTimNoakes and the Paleo supporters our guts are not designed digest or absorb most grains hence why so many people have digestive and inflammatory problems from carb based foods. Plus you can still get carbs from green vegetables and fruit, you don't need bread, rice, pasta etc - apparently.

  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭

    Can I bounce this back up to see if there are any more thoughts on this?  I'm interested in this after another very persuasive interview recently on marathontalk, but the thought of binning carb-based food would be a big change for me. 

    I'm not looking at this from a weight-loss point of view but from a running point of view as I am one of those runners who rely on gels and "carb loading" for long distances, but I've never been happy with the manufactured nature of gels, hence me looking at paleo.

    Any more thoughts/experiences?

  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    I think it's ridiculous, if it was so great why did we step away from it! Oh because what they now call a paleo diet is completely unlike what cavemen would actually have eaten.

    it's another fad diet, some very very brilliant runners use it, that doesn't mean it's special just they like it. Or they get good book deals out of Using it.

    the original post said recommend for pre diabetic and overweight people, are they the average ultra runner? I think not. 


  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭

    booktrunk - direct, as always image  Playing Devil's advocate, presuming you use gels for your runs, do you think this is "natural"?

  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    What has natural got to do with it? Do you all wear leather shoes scrapped from skins of dead animals, with no plastic or rubber in their construction at all and how about your clothes, natural has nothing to do with it. 

    Sorry! But until you answer yes to all of those then there is no natural argument, held together by natural glue, and not of course a machine in site for any of the construction.  

  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    I apologise if I have offended anyone when I said ridiculous, I didn't mean it in a derogatory way. But, I just think it's a fad, it's a nice idea, but we developed for a reason, going back to a diet from x years ago isn't a magic pill it's like having Sat Nav in your car, and knowing you are lost but refusing to turn it on in principle, it's a nice idea... But I really don't see why you would cut out a whole wealth of foods on what seems to be thin evidence from a very small minority of advocates, when compared with a modern *balanced* diet. 

  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭
    Natural has everything to do with it for me and you mixing up different topics is not helpful. Arguing that clothing and GPS are part of the same discussion is, errrm, 'strange'. image

    So are you saying that packaged/processed food is better because it's modern?
  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    No but I'm saying some modern things aren't wrong, and yes I love Diet Coke full of all sorts of unhealthy shit image I'd have diet coke over dried tea leaves every day. 

  • I think we need to move away from a "one size fits all" approach to diet. Some people can eat lots of refined carbs and be healthy, whereas others will tend to put on weight when on a high carb diet. Personally, I carry a few too many extra pounds at the moment but have found that when I cut out refined carbs like bread, pasta, sugar, I have started to lose weight. I've never stuck to this religiously though so have tended to put weight on again. I'm trying a more paleo approach right now, although I'm not completely cutting out dairy as I don't think milk and yoghurt have an adverse affect on me (butter and cheese are a different matter so I will be cutting these out). Just eating less has never, ever worked for me, I find it almost impossible to stick to. I'm one to avoid fad diets like the plague but, having done a fair bit of reading on paleo, I think there may actually be something to it. Certainly enough to give it a try for a month anyway.

    I really don't see how, at the very least, cutting out processed crap can be a bad thing. I'll report back here with how I get on.

  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭
    I wasn't aware that I had said modern things are 'wrong'. My understanding of paleo is basically that food should be 'real' (ie, natural and not processed) and carbs are cut. On the face of it and from the (more balanced) bits I've read, that doesn't seem to me to be an outrageous thing to look into, which is all I'm doing.

    Anyway, thanks for your input.
  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    Big G: I realise this means that I'm a lost cause as far as your concerned image 

  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    I agree with cutting out processed crap, yes, but that isn't really a paleo diet. 

    my food is virtually all homemade. Except the very odd pukka pie image including homemade pasta, bread etc.. but, I think that's not a paleo diet.

    if I give my dog shop made bread she turns her nose up at it and refuses to eat it, as it's full of crap, if I offer her homemade bread milled at a local mill, she will wolf it down.

    that does say something to me image also have rescue hens so eat lots of eggy things. 


    Oh... With regards to gels, I purchased a pack of 24 gels, so yeah I do gels. image full of crap, I buy them to do a job, and they do it. image

  • Well, it's degrees. I'm not 100% sold on the "all grains are bad" thing just yet, which is why I'm giving it a try to see. Obviously for you, eating grains and plenty of refined carbs works. You feel fit and healthy and full of energy, which is great. I have found that despite all the exercise I get, despite feeling much better and fitter, I haven't really shifted loads of flab and I think my running suffers as a result. The likelihood is, if I do find it works for me, I won't stick with it religiously and get ridiculously anal about it, which no doubt some proponents do, but would probably stick to the main ideas behind it for most of the time. We shall see.

  • Big_GBig_G ✭✭✭
    Cotswoldrunner - good luck with it.
  • PG3PG3 ✭✭✭

    I followed a paleo style diet whilst marathon training last year and was amazed at the results.  Its the first time I have been able to lose weight and train hard without having huge crashes and feeling like I have run out of fuel.  I am following one now as i have baby weight to lose and i really rate it.  I eat so much natural food which is probably a big reason why i feel good on it.  Loads of eggs, veg, fruit, quality meat, avocados, salmon.  Works for me.

  • I lost a lot of weight doing a paleoesque type eating - which was fine for the mild cardio and strength training i was doing.  Now I do tri and the amount of endurance has increased I find I need to eat more slow release carbs or I run myself down and become a nightmare of a wife.  I eat a snot load of quality food, a little bit of processed stuff - I try my best to stay away from gluten as my tummy isn't a fan and I have to think of the husband being quietly gassed in his sleep image 

  • I did try the no carb approach, and did one marathon on cheese and nuts. It was OK. I did another 2 weeks later and nearly ripped someone's arm off for a gel. I eat quality food but just so much of it, even doing the low/no carb thing I can't shift the timber as I'm so hungry all the time. Carbs are also booze's best friend, and I love my wine, so until that changes I am going to have to get involved in the occasional pitta bread.

  • HappychapHappychap ✭✭✭

    I have moved to a paleo diet and have been following it for a few months.  it's not a no carb affair but more focused on 'clean eating' ie no processed food.  So far I've lost 32lb, and ran my fastest marathon for five years (possibly down to the weight loss). I mostly fuel longer training runs and rides with eggs, bacon and nuts but since I'm now training for an Ironman I'm struggling to stay truly paleo during those longer sessions.

    as an aside I've also noticed a significant reduction in my fibromyalgia symptoms, skin flare ups and low blood sugar episodes. 

  • The paleo diet really is a misnomer, a true paleo diet would be whatever you could forage + hunt so lots of squirrels and wild garlic at the moment. All farmed food would be out as that didn't exist in the stone age, no chicken, no carrots, no clementines.

    Is there any evidence that cutting carbs benefits runners? Matt Fitzgerald in his book on marathon nutrition argues many runners suffer poor performance because they eat too few carbs. His nutrition advice is hardy groundbreaking, eat mostly vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds and (unless you are a vegetarian) fish and lean meat, whole grains etc these are in order of decreasing quantity. He does cite some studies but the evidence is hardly exhaustive.


  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    From what I hear it seems to be that it's more a case of working out which diet works best for you.
  • Big_G: Kendal mint cake is a lot less processed than gels and I've yet to hear of anyone getting gut problems from it. For longer runs I like malt loaf, fig rolls etc.

    Scott Jurek won Western States 100 seven years in a row on a vegan diet.

    I'm vegetarian and have been trying to base my diet less on dairy and more on a wide variety of plant foods - including various whole grains but trying to minimise refined carbohydrates and highly processed foods. At least 15 different plant species per day, most days - which is easy if you snack on fruit, seeds and nuts (seven ingredients in my home-made muesli for a start).

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