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My top pick for Health Book of 2012 - The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I've read so many good books about exercise and nutrition this year. But for me the the absolute favorite is the book by Jeff Volek and Stephen D. Phinney "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance."
This book came out early this year and I was lucky to find it shortly after.
This is the first and possibly still only book that talks in depth about why a very low carb ketogenic diet may not just be useful for weight loss, insulin-resistance, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, epilepsy and autoimmune diseases but also to significantly improve athletic performance. The authors have many years of research experience in the field of low carb nutrition and had published another outstanding book, "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living" last year which focused on the details of getting low carb eating right by avoiding the many possible pitfalls.
This new book is written for athletes who want to improve their performance, but also for people who want to be athletes and never could be because their body would not cooperate on a higher carb diet.
The authors explain in detail how on a higher carb diet the body is dependent on glucose for most of its functions including muscle functions and brain function.
Glucose can only be stored in our body in a fairly limited amount, somewhere around 2000 calories. When this supply is close to being exhausted we need to refuel with carbohydrates to keep functioning or we will "hit the wall" as endurance athletes call it, meaning our brain and muscles are running out of fuel. When eating a high carbohydrate diet our body can not quickly switch from fueling with carbohydrate to fueling with fat, even though even a slim person has 40,000 calories of energy on their body at all times from fat.
This fat can only be accessed to fuel the muscles and the brain for most of their energy needs if the body is used to using it. Fat is converted to ketones which can fuel the muscles and the brain for most of their energy needs in a keto-adapted person.
For keto-adaptation to happen carbohydrate intake has to be drastically reduced, usually at least down to 50 grams/day, in many people to under 20 grams/day at least initially. The reason is that higher carb levels than this will lead to more insulin production and insulin inhibits release and use of fat from our fat storage cells. The graphics in the book show that with even moderate carbohydrate intake (of any form) there is too much insulin for the body to be able to access any significant amount of fat as fuel.
Once carb levels are lowered enough the body will start producing ketones from fat and from that point on it takes a few weeks for our body to make all the necessary changes to become fully keto-adapted. The whole process typically takes about 6 weeks, which is why many benefits of a low carbohydrate diet are only optimized after this period. Some improvements, like a lack of hunger and a reduction in body fat, can be seen much earlier, often after just a few days.
Once the body is fully keto-adapted something amazing happens:
Fat use during exercise increases tremendously with moderate exercise for both endurance exercise and resistance training. In a study of high-level cyclists who had been keto-adpated for 4 weeks the average fat oxidation per hour at about 65% VO2max was about 90 grams/hour.
So far I have just summarized the first three chapters. The rest of the book talks about implementing the diet, macronutrient levels, faster recovery rates on ketogenic diets and fluid and mineral management.
Just to make sure nobody who buys this book is going to be disappointed: The diet itself is not very different from what you can find in the original Atkins diet: low carb and high fat although there is some additional info here as well. The main benefit I get from this book is to understand how to optimize a low-carb diet to get far superior results from the time I spend exercising.
I am planning to measure this by recording my body weight, body fat percentage vs. lean muscle mass and by recording improvements in my running and resistance training over the next 3 months.
I found out that for me even with carbs around 50 grams/day I am barely, if at all in ketosis so have lowered my carbs down to 20 grams/day for the next 2 weeks and will then increase by at most 5 grams/day per week. Today is only my second day in ketosis so I am expecting it to take about 3-4 weeks to see significant improvement in performance, although I should be seeing a drop in weight and body fat earlier.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I lost 12 kilos in 12 weeks using a method similar to this, low carb high protein. But it advised to only do it for 12 weeks at a time.

    Does your book advise this as well?
    1906 days ago
    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this information! I'm very curious to see how your performance changes once you've been doing this for a few weeks. Good luck with it!
    1907 days ago
    Thanks for sharing!


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    1907 days ago
    MPLANE37, From my own, very limited, experience it seems that once the human body is keto-adapted that the body uses fat before muscle. I was able to gain some muscle with fairly minimal strength training on about 50 grams of carbs and no more than 70-80 grams of protein/day. I'm hoping to do a little more over the next three months to see if I can improve my body composition. The book indicates that gaining muscle on a ketogenic diet is not only possible but potentially easier.
    1907 days ago
  • MPLANE37
    The books seems interesting. I have not read it yet, but hope to do so if I get a chance. I wonder how the performance of the athletes burning fat evolves relative to those who burn glycogen. I suspect those who burn glycogen would still outperform the fat burners. The great advantage of burning fat is obvious in reducing the body fat percentage; but what happens to the muscles? When pressed for fuel (after depleting the glycogen stores), the body can easily break down muscle tissue, faster than it burns fat. This would be a big problem.
    1908 days ago
  • LOSER05
    emoticon emoticon
    1910 days ago
    I have to agree with you, it's a great book....Explains things very well!

    1911 days ago
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