To be honest when Dr Prof Tim Noakes started going on about the LCHF (low carb high fat) diet I thought he had lost his mind!

Of course I knew that “bad” carbs where a problem and that one should stay away from refined and simple carbs like white bread, pasta, white flour, sugar, etc. I had restricted my diet to low-gi carbs such as low-gi seed bread, low-gi muesli, sweet potatoes, etc. I was also very particular to include at least 4 fruits a day and then of course anything fat was a no go, I opted for low-fat yoghurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, only lean meats, and I was supposed to but couldn’t quite bring myself to stripping off the best part of chicken, the skin.

Suddenly Tim Noakes was promoting a no carb or at least a very restricted carb and high fat diet! What had gotten into this great mind? Had he hit 60 years old and suddenly lost his marbles? Within my circles and influence I was openly opposed (of course with all my medical degrees and over 60 year’s experience…not) to what he was advocating. I had heard about this kind of diet before, The Atkins Diet and all I remember about it was a backlash of negativity. Besides, everything I every learnt and knew about nutrition and health especially for the runner was now been called into question.

As time passed and the more I listened to what he had to say the more I began to accept that maybe, just maybe there may be some validity in what he was saying. I started to read books like The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Why We Get Fat, and the latest purchase was, wait for it….The New Diet Revolution by none other than Dr Atkins. I’m still working through the book and it’s certainly well worth a read.

My mind was beginning to shift and I was beginning to ask myself questions like, “How would this work for a runner? How would it affect a marathon? What about an ultra, Two Oceans, Comrades and beyond?”

It was around this time, probably around May that I began to dabble with this diet and started cutting out things like bread completely including the low-gi options. Pasta has never been my favourite so that was no issue, sugar was no problem apart from my sweet-tooth which was enjoying smashing slabs a few times a week in what was then the off season.

The problem was that I was kinda half in. I had reduced carbs to a point but still found myself binging and unsure of exactly what I was supposed to be eating on this new way of life.

Things came to a grinding halt when my wife Cindy and I went to Amsterdam and Dublin for a 10 day holiday with her sister and husband. Wow! Talk about a carb fest. From morning to night, all we ate were carbs. Carbs for breakfast lunch and supper and of course more chocolate than I could handle. We were on the move a lot and so food was whatever we could get our hands on easily and the easiest were carbs.

By the time we landed in South Africa on the 2nd of July I was sick of chocolate, I literally felt ill. I had made up my mind that was I going to give this LCHF diet a full go and made a commitment to restrict carbs as much as I could and no sugar at all for 6 weeks. But I still had one more Milka slab left and so despite been all sugared out I forced it down so that come tomorrow there would be no temptation.

The next morning it began, I started off the day with 2 eggs fried in coconut oil. As I ate my breakfast I grumbled under my breathe wondering just how long this could possibly sustain me. To my surprise I felt full for most of the morning. With a previous big helping of muesli and low-fat yoghurt I’d be starving 2 hours later. I cut out all the carbs I could think of, all breads, flour, sugar, I even cut all fruit and all vegetables. The vegetables would be reintroduced next week.

I had read about the possible initial effect of fatigue and other things but to be honest I felt great, my energy levels felt good during the day and I wasn’t hungry all the time and as the weekend rolled around I set out for my first longish run on this new diet after only 4 days. This is what I was most interested in, the effect of this diet on my running and thereby on my clients.

The plan was a 2 hour run which ended up been 25km’s. I did not eat anything beforehand and drank only water on the run. I felt great for the first 18-19km’s and then I ran slap bang into “the wall.” I felt like I had concrete blocks on my legs and I simple could not lift my legs. Sure I had been travelling and for the last 10 days had been training at sea level and I would definitely feel the effects of altitude. But this was way worse, this felt as though every ounce of energy had been sapped from my system. If you’ve ever tried to sprint an 800m when unfit, it was similar to the feeling you get with 300m’s to go. I simply couldn’t. I ended up having to walk most of the last 4 km’s. I felt terrible and wasted and all I wanted, all I could think about, all my body craved was an ice cold coke.

I stuck to the plan; I did not have that coke and simply kept to the eating plan. I could feel my body having an internal energy fight and in the 2nd week almost every night I dreamt about sugar. For the first 3 weeks runs were definitely a bit of a struggle but after that I started to feel better out on the road.

This past weekend I headed off to the Magalies mountains for a 34km Trail run. This was perfect a perfect tester coming around about 7 weeks into the diet. Just the kind of run I needed to see how the energy levels responded. I changed nothing in terms of my diet, woke up at 04h45 and drove through to the start. On the way I ate a handful of macadamia nuts and that was it. I had nothing in my pack except 1.5l’s of water (ok, I was a bit low on water for what would be almost 4 hours of running, but this article isn’t about the water).

It turned out to be a very hot day, with a 09h00 start temperatures got up to 27 degrees in the second half with most of the second half been sheltered from any wind. I felt hungry after about an hour into the run which I expected, after all I had only eaten a few nuts at 06h00 and it was now already 10h00. In most cases before a run longer than 2 to 2.5 hrs I will have breakfast 2 hours before the start, but again, I was determined to test this thing to the max.

I ended up finishing what was an extremely tough route in 03h40. Despite the fact that I had hardly eaten anything since 19h00 the night before and had run a tough, hot 34km trail in 03h40 not once during the run did I crave sugar. Not once during the run did I feel like my mind was going into a sugar low. Sure, my quads and hip flexors were tired and I was struggling to keep my core temperature down but that had nothing to do with my diet. My energy levels felt good, in fact I ended up driving straight home, had a lie down for 20mins before rushing off to the rugby that afternoon and despite feeling a tad sunburned had plenty of energy. In the past after this kind of run, it would have been game over for the rest of the afternoon.

So what’s the bottom line. So far so good in terms of the LCHF diet and to Dr Prof Tim Noakes, keep preaching and teaching it!

The running aspect is only one side of this coin, the health aspect is the other and of course far more important. Over the past year my blood pressure has been on the high side and so far on the LCHF it’s come down to the normal range and I’m intrigued to see just how low it will go.

I will certainly keep you posted in terms of my progress and my own personal discovery on this journey.

– Ray Orchison

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