I’m writing this with a Cadbury caramel chocolate bar in one hand which I’m slowly stirring/melting into a cup of tea. It’s heavenly, delicious and I feel no guilt whatsoever. It also is a good indicator of the outcome to this little experiment…
Religion does not play a role in my life, but when Lent this year conveniently started on March 1, I couldn’t help but want to try giving up something for March (and possibly until Easter). For whatever reason, my brain jumped to carbs: probably because this is a food-group which forms the majority of my diet, and I wanted to see if I could a) exist without pasta, bread etc. without going crazy, and b) if it would have a major impact on my running. The idea wasn’t to cut out carbs 100%, but just to stick with carbs from fruit or vegetables (eg. sweet potato, chickpeas, apples, bananas).
I managed 16 full days of eating in this way, with a 6-day break for Barcelona. I was hoping to stick it out at least until Monday next week if not the end of the month, but the past few days have been all over the place and it was just one extra thing that I couldn’t cope with.
To start with, I felt really great. I saw an immediate shift in that I was cooking a lot more for myself, and more varied meals as well. For breakfast I was making exciting omelettes and two-ingredient pancakes (eggs+banana), or even eating leftovers from the previous night’s dinner which I normally never do. For lunch I sought out carb-free options from the shops nearby work, protein packed salads from Crussh, naked burritos or kebabs, or my personal favourite of a quarter roast chicken with a side salad from M&S. Dinners were even more experimental, as I made bunless burgers, chilli con carne or cheesy cauliflower chicken concoctions.
By significantly cutting back on the carbs, my reliance on fats as a fuel source went up, and I started ordering full-fat milk in my coffee and eating copious amounts of cheese and nuts as a snack. The cheese probably wasn’t the healthiest option, but I somehow got it in my head that on this diet I could just eat whatever I wanted. In the first week I lost over a kilo, but after that I didn’t see much change in my weight.
As Barcelona marathon drew nearer I started to get more and more worried about whether or not I would be able to perform without carb-loading as I normally would. On the Friday night two days before the race I finally decided to press pause on the experiment so that I could fill my body with pasta and bread to burn in the race. I had done a lot of reading into the Low Carb High Fat diet (LCHF) which mine most closely resembled and it seemed that eventually I would have been able to run with fat as my fuel source, but I didn’t want to risk it.
The marathon went well and I didn’t jump back to healthy eating until we returned to London. Once again it was easy to eat low-carb and I didn’t ever feel any significant side-effects. In fact, my body was responding positively: I was waking up without feeling tired, the world felt a lot clearer and less fluffy, and from what I could tell, my running wasn’t suffering.
That is: until it did. This week has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions and shitty running. Little things have been pissing me off more than normal, and I’ll swing from happy and content to crying in the space of 10 minutes without reason. There could be a number of reasons for it, but my brain kept saying: FEED ME CARBS.
So I am. I’m back on the carbs bandwagon, and I like it. I do think there is merit in what I was trying to do, mostly because I now no longer think it is necessary to have carbs with every meal as I did before. Carbs are good for training, but I think it’s sufficient to eat them the meal before a session and otherwise keep to small portions, if any. I’ve also realised sugary products/junk food now gives me a headache (yep, including that delicious chocolate bar now mixed into my tea), and I don’t need them.
TLDR; low-carb eating was an interesting experiment. I cooked a lot more for myself ✓, learned to find healthier options when eating out ✓ and discovered that I am not totally reliant on pasta ✓. However, it also caused me extra race-stress ✗ and ultimately may have caused a temporary decrease in running performance ✗. Eating LCHF may work for some people (especially if you started at least a few months before a race) but not for this carb-lover.