Recent re-emergence of interest in LCHF diets, coupled with anecdotes of improved performance by sportspeople who follow them, has created a need to re-examine the potential benefits of this eating style. Unfortunately, the absence of new data prevents a different conclusion from being made. Notwithstanding the outcomes of future research, there is a need for better recognition of current sports nutrition guidelines that promote an individualized and periodized approach to fuel availability during training, allowing the athlete to prepare for competition performance with metabolic flexibility and optimal utilization of all muscle substrates. Nevertheless, there may be a few scenarios where LCHF diets are of benefit, or at least are not detrimental, for sports performance. A decade later, theories and claims that fat adaptation can enhance sports performance have strongly re-emerged from several sources via peer-reviewed literature [ 3 — 6 ], lay publications [ 7 ], and a highly developed information network that did not exist during the previous incarnation of this dietary theory: social media [ 8, 9 ]. This review summarizes the theory and the evidence to support LCHF diets for athletic performance. It reviews experimental data that informed the conclusions made by this author in and the context of competitive sport to which they were applied. It then frames the current claims made for the LCHF diet and athletic performance against the current sports nutrition guidelines and any additional evidence against which they should be judged. To provide objectivity in discussing the current promotion of the LCHF diet for enhanced sports performance, quotes from key proponents taken from both peer-reviewed literature and less formal sources are presented. While the inclusion of the latter sources in a scientific review may be considered unconventional, it is now recognized that many scientists actively use social media to promote their views [ 10 ] and even conduct research [ 11 ], albeit involving non-traditional methodologies. Therefore, it provides an important source of information for constructing the theories that need to be examined.
The current literature on LCHF diets is relentless in promoting misunderstanding or misinformation on the current guidelines for athletes in relation to carbohydrate intake in the training or competition diet. You would think there would be a plethora of research surrounding this topic with the rapidly increasing popularity of LCHF diets among athletes. However, and most importantly, the focus on the mean outcomes of the trial in a small sample size hides the experiences of the individual cyclists.
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We know from research findings that carbohydrate is necessary for improving both high intensity and endurance performance. But recently this theory has been challenged by a number of endurance athletes and researchers. In this first part of a two-part series, Joe McQuillan and Alan McCubbin introduce us to high-fat, low-carb diets, discuss the benefits of such diets and look at how you can try one for yourself. Some athletes claim that following a low carbohydrate diet — with a greater proportion of energy coming from fat — has allowed them to consume less carbs during exercise without any loss of performance. In a recent blog post successful endurance coach, veteran athlete and author Joe Friel noted . I was never hungry. In fact, it seemed like the more fat I ate, the more weight I lost.