Ep54: Is the Low Carb Diet Good for Athletes? • Dr Peter Brukner

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Dr Peter Brukner
Dr Peter Brukner: Sports Medicine Physician and Professor

In today’s interview I get to speak with Australian sports medicine physician and Professor of Sport Medicine, Dr Peter Brukner, about the long-term benefits of low-carb diet for elite athletes and recreationalist alike.

Peter is very passionate about the health benefits of a low-carb, healthy fat diet for better short and long-term health.

In today’s interview we get a chance to talk about why after a lifetime of following the traditional thinking on what a healthy diet is; he began to question the validity of the high-carb, low fat food advice. After conducting his own research and personal experiment he came to a realisation that a myriad of today’s health issues, including the current obesity and diabetes epidemic, can be traced to a high sugar diet.

If you know someone who is interested in whether a low-carb diet can be suitable and sustainable in the long-term for athletes (elite & amateur), then this interview is for them.

I enjoyed this interview and after talking to Peter, I have a much better understanding of how I can adapt a low-carb diet to get the most out of various exercise regimes. It is not a one-size fits all approach; a hybrid model that’s tailored to individual needs may be needed. However, all things considered, there are huge benefits for our metabolic health from limiting sugar intake and adopting a low carb approach.

Buy Dr Peter Bruckner’s Book On Amazon
A Fat Lot of Good: How the Experts Got Food and Diet So Wrong and What You Can Do to Take Back Control of Your Health
Click here to buy

Special thanks to Peter for joining me on the show. Enjoy the episode!

For more information visit Peter’s website Fat Lot of Good or follow him on Twitter.

Show Notes with Timestamp Links

Highlights of what we talk about during the interview:

Click on one of the timestamp links in the brackets to jump to that point in the interview audio

[00:19] – Introducing Dr Peter Brukner, a world-renowned Australian sports medicine clinician and researcher. He is also a Professor of Sports Medicine at La Trobe University and has authored several books including Brukner & Khan’s Clinical Sports Medicine, Australia’s first sports medicine nutrition book Food for Sport, and most recently a Fat Lot of Good. He has been the team doctor for elite team sports such as the Australian cricket team, the Australian soccer team, the Olympic team, the Liverpool football club just to name a few.

[02:48] – Are most athletes eating too much sugar? Peter believes that most people in general are eating too much sugar, athletes included. Too much sugar + processed foods are the main reasons we are seeing the current epidemics in obesity and type two diabetics.

[04:23] – Having been on the low-fat bandwagon for the last 30-40 years Peter explains how he became aware of the low-carb movement through his friend Dr Tim Noakes who challenged the low-fat orthodox and the notion that carbs are the best fuel (Listen to Marika Sboros explain the story behind the Tim Noakes trial and results). He explains how Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories changed his life.

[08:20] – Peter started his own n=1 research project and after getting his bloods done, went on a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet for 13 weeks. The results were astonishing. Not only did he feel great and had more energy, he was less hungry, lost 13 kgs, and his blood results at the end showed improvements in triglycerides, HDL and a complete reversal of fatty liver disease.

[12:22] – There is a huge amount of evidence that sugar, vegetable oils and processed foods are causing our current health problems. We had our good and bad fats the wrong way around!

[13:26] – Fatty liver can be used as a marker for metabolic health problems as it is often associated with diabetes. It is concerning that 1/3 of adults in Britain and Australia have fatty liver disease, most of them unaware of the fact. The most probable culprits for fatty liver are fructose and sugar (especially fructose).

[15:15] – Do athletes have to be concerned about fatty liver? Generally, athletes have a very high carb intake as carbs do provide an effective fuel source. Peter explains how problems with this are long-term effects and our limited carb storage.

[17:25] – The advantage of using fat for fuel is that – in addition to being healthier – we have large fat supplies that are enough to sustain high energy needs. Peter explains that there are circumstances such as with high intensity exercise where some carbs need to be added. Depending on the amount of exercise and the intensity of exercise a hybrid model may be the best solution. We are transitioning away from high carbs to primarily a LCHF diet.

[19:59] – Other advantages for reducing carbs are less muscle damage and inflammation, and better recovery. Peter explains the ‘train low, compete high’ concept used for high intensity and endurance sport. The average recreational athlete should be fine eating low carb.

[24:14] – To find the right balance, there is a bit of trial and error involved. What is right for an individual will depend on the metabolic health of an individual, as well as other factors such as genetics and the type of training they are doing.

[21:40] – Along with diet, exercise is the most important factor for prevention of chronic disease, but it cannot make up for a bad diet and protect us from metabolic conditions. Calories in, calories out is wrong; all calories are not equal, and the body will respond differently to different nutrients.

[28:11] – Type 2 diabetes is a costly disease with a multitude of related complications, but it is also preventable and reversible with a low-carb diet. The website, Diabetes.co.uk is a useful resource for more information.

[29:36] – Does age affect how much carbs we need? We become more insulin resistant as we get older (there is also a genetic factor). Peter explains that many elite athletes are a few kg over their ideal weight. (Listen to Dr Benjamin Bikman explain what is insulin resistance.)

[32:13] – How do athletes eat after big events for faster recovery? Emphasis is on protein with low levels of carbohydrates. Again, it depends on the regime they are on. Resistance and endurance athletes who have traditionally been on high carb and protein are also realising they can reduce body fat by reducing carbs.

[34:46] – Australian cricketer, Shane Watson talked about skin folds and how the LCHF diet made a huge difference to him in Peter’s latest book. We can use skin folds as a way of measuring body fat to monitor progress and training. Peter’s advice to any young sports person is to be mindful of the amount of carbs they are consuming.

[40:34] – Avoid sports drinks as most of them are loaded with sugar. Most people will be fine on water and electrolytes.

[41:29] – How do sponsorships affect an athlete’s diet? Athletes don’t always use the products they sponsor. A positive trend we are seeing is some sports drinks have produced reduced sugar drinks. That will probably be a continuing trend as demand for those types of products increases.

[43:44] – One side effect of the LCHF diet is that there seems to be more cramping. Peter suggests increasing salt intake and taking magnesium to help with this. There are also the flu symptoms people experience, but they are temporary and will pass.

[46:31] – How is the LCHF diet being introduced to teams/athletes? Many dietitians are reluctant to make that switch so a lot of it is driven by athletes themselves as well as the fitness and sport science staff. While carbs are still an important fuel source, in the future, we will be moving away from the high carb diets into a more balanced hybrid approach.

[49:55] – Peter’s book Fat Lot of Good is a great resource for athletes as well as anyone interested in the low carb diet. The best place to find it is on The Book depository (free shipping). Also, be sure to check out SugarByHalf, a national campaign in Australia that aims to reduce the amount of added sugar intake by half for improvement to our metabolic health. To follow Peter and find out more visit his website: fatlotofgood.com.au where he has a regular blog and heap a of information (from book an+additional info). His twitter account @PeterBrukner

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