Low Carb-High Fat Diet in Marathon Runners

Olympic gold medalist, Jesse Owens, once said, "We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort."  Anyone who knows anything about olympic athletes knows that their life is strictly regulated, especially the food that they consume. If you have ever tried a diet, you know the self-discipline it takes to remain on that dietary track. 95% of diets fail and most will regain their lost weight in 1 to 5 years as reported by the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination.I am here to talk to you about a new controversial diet, marathon and endurance runners are changing over to, the “Low carb - high fat” diet . First, we will discuss exactly what it is. Then, we will delve into the science behind the new diet. Finally, we will consider how it is changing the face of running all over the world.

According to Runnersworld.com, eating a low-carb, high-fat diet, abbreviated LCHF, forces your body to adapt in order to burn fat more efficiently. Runners are training their bodies to go against their natural metabolic course and rerouting it to run off stored fat. Since your fat stores are essentially unlimited, burning a bit more fat during exercise,in theory, will allow your carb stores to last longer and reduce your vulnerability to burning out. The theory behind it is that the human body can store more fats than carbohydrates so it makes sense to become “fat adapted” and with this it’s possible to go further faster. The LCHF diet calls for at least 50-70 percent of calories to come from fat, 20 percent from protein, 20 percent from vegetables, and only a mere five percent from starches and fruits. Compared to the normal carbohydrate diet favored by the majority of runners with 55-65 percent of calories coming from carbs, 25-30 percent from fat, and 10-15 percent from protein, the difference between these two diets is astounding.

Zach Bitter is a marathon runner on the LCHF diet and his fastest personal record when on this diet was 2:31:29 compared to James Lawrence, also a  marathon runner on a high carb diet whose personal record is 3:28:02. As you can see, the runner with the high carb diet ran considerably slower than the runner on the high fat diet. Naturally, your body’s “go to” energy supply is glycogen which is found in fruit, pasta, bread, and, yes, cookies, all of which fall under the category of carbohydrates. The average person is capable of storing between 1,400 and 2,000 calories of glycogen in their bodies at once,  there are studies showing carbs are the best source of fuel for a speedy performance, but what happens when you’re out of it? You slow down, and in a marathon you can’t afford to slow down. Fortunately, your body has almost unlimited stores of fat calories to burn off. In any given moment the average adult may have up to 80,000 calories worth of fat stored, so if you teach your body to run off fat you’ll be able to run forever -- at least in theory.

Along with being a constant energy supply this diet also decreases the amount of recovery time needed for an athlete's muscles. Many of the foods in this plan are natural inflammation reducers, which minimizes post-workout soreness. This benefit is especially important for high endurance runners, because their training rituals are so intense, it pushes them to their physical limits. As a result, lactic acid and oxidative stress may build up which leads to aging and injury, which can be detrimental to a runner's career. Because of these benefits mentioned above, hundreds of runners are making the switch to this diet. Here’s a testimony of Bevan Mckinnon, an Ironman competitor, who trained and performed on the low carb high fat diet, “I had no “dark moments” at any stage in the race.  I had enough fuel to simply keep going.  In the end I was suffering some minor muscular soreness on the ups and downs of the run course which slowed me slightly. I wasn’t aiming for a specific time, and it wasn’t until the last seven kms that I realized I had the chance to go under 9 hours, which I just missed out on in the end”.

In conclusion, this diet has many benefits including longer endurance, anti-inflammatory properties, an endless supply of energy, and reduced recovery times. This diet change is making its way around the runner's world and is making astounding impacts on the lives of whom make the switch. As I said previously this new diet can help improve times in endurance sports, like our two marathon runners the one on the Low carb High fat diet did about an hour faster compared to the carb-loaded runner. Fat adaptation is becoming the new trend in marathon runners, and the times are proving that the science behind this diet is working.

Veronica Sheriff is a senior at Shanksville-Stonycreek High School. She has attended Shanksville since the first day of pre-k. Veronica participates in many school-wide organizations such as Student Council, National Honor Society,  Forensics, and Multimedia and Journalism. She is an editor, writer , and producer for the Viklet and WVIK. Veronica is also a part of the  Berlin-Shanksville soccer co-op. She has played since seventh grade. For the past four years she has been the starting goalkeeper.

Outside of school, Veronica is a competitive dancer at Laurel Arts. She participates in Ballet, Jazz, Lyrical and Pointe. In her free time, she enjoys backpacking and hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, snowboarding, running, and playing guitar. She has recently completed her first half marathon.

Veronica’s future plans include moving to Arizona to attend either Northern Arizona University or Prescott University. She is going to study Outdoor Education and Wilderness Leadership.

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