Early 2019 has provided me with one of the biggest challenges to my low-carb lifestyle: marathon training. Traditionally, distance running goes hand in hand with eating plenty of carbs, with runners stuffing in platefuls of pasta to ‘carb load’ before a long run. I had been managing just fine running regular 5ks on a very low carb keto diet, but as my weekly mileage started to increase, my running performance started to suffer, and I couldn’t bear to head out for another 15k+ run feeling like I had no energy left in my legs even before I got started.
I didn’t want to completely throw in the towel and start shoveling down the cookies, as keto had been working so well for me in maintaining a healthy weight. I wondered if there was a compromise to be found, a healthy low-ish carb diet that still provided enough fuel for running. After much research, I decided to give Slow Carbing a try – the way of eating set out in Tim Ferriss’ bestselling Four Hour Body book.
The 4-hour body or ‘Slow Carb’ diet
The principles were quite straightforward for me to get hold of. This is a healthy, moderately low-carb diet, full of lean meats and vegetables, where the only carb-rich foods allowed are lentils and beans. Other key differences to keto are that no cheese or dairy is allowed, and you are encouraged to take a few supplements each day, including green tea extract and garlic, to aid the fat burning process. One crucial part of the plan is that you have a weekly ‘cheat’ day where anything goes! On this day you can have as much cake, chocolate, beer, pizza as you like, the theory being that this weekly splurge will keep your metabolism nice and high. I could also time my high carb day to be the day before my weekly long run, leaving my muscles nicely fuelled with glycogen. Sounds perfect, right? But was it too good to be true? Could I possibly lose any weight like this?
So how did it go?
After cooking keto-friendly for so long, I found it pretty easy to adjust my normal meals to fit the slow-carb rules. Having unlimited beans or lentils with every meal certainly helped me feel full, and my mid-week running workouts went absolutely fine! I did miss cheese and dairy products, but having that weekly ‘cheat’ day really helped. Every time I craved something off-plan I wrote it down or added it to the shopping order so I could eat it to my hearts content at the weekend. The first cheat day felt like such a treat! I stuffed myself with chocolate chip shortbread, cheese on toast, pizza and Ferrero Rochers. I found it really easy to stick to the plan knowing that I just had to wait until Sunday to eat whatever I liked.
And the results?
Each week followed the same pattern; I would see my weight going down and down a little each day, to then bounce up again a couple of pounds after the Sunday high-carb day. But every Saturday I finished the week lighter than the one before! It was working!
Starting weight (17th Jan 2019) 155.0lbs, body fat 32.7%
End weight: (16th Feb 2019) 148.4lbs, body fat 27.9%
That’s a loss of 7.1lbs, and 4.8% body fat in one month!
I’ve really enjoyed this month of slow-carbing, and found it to be a great compromise between weight loss and fuelling my marathon training. I’m planning to continue on plan up until one or two weeks before the marathon, allowing myself some extra carbs before and during any long runs greater than 10miles, but otherwise following the slow-carb rules as much as possible.
For a full breakdown of the slow carb way of eating, I highly recommend checking out Tim Ferris’s 4-hour body book. This guy is obsessed with biohacking, using himself as the ultimate guinea pig to try out diets and supplements in pursuit of physical perfection, which makes for a fascinating read!