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Planning on giving up carbs? Think again

Planning on giving up carbs? Think again

While intense workouts such as CrossFit or ultra-marathon running are gaining popularity, special diets for athletes like the paleo, low carb, are also gaining momentum.  

One of the results of the increase in the number of exercisers is an increase in the variety of training offered to trainees. A few years ago, the training concentrated on standard activity in the gyms and classes and included aerobic activity of moderate difficulty and various strengthening training. Today, the popularity of types of training is increasing, some of which require a little more challenging and extreme physical abilities and effort 

One of these types of training is CrossFit training. A training method that combines short aerobic sections, such as training on a rowing machine, lifts, and levels of high weights, along with elements from the world of gymnastics such as training on tension or rings - in sequence and without breaks. This wood training is very popular among young trainees due to the fact that it causes a rapid improvement in aerobic fitness and muscle strength. 

Because of the high physiological requirements of this training, the trainees adopt a nutritional program similar to professional athletes with the aim of maximizing the effects of the training and also to better cope with its metabolic requirements. One of the popular diet methods is the method of the ancient man diet, the Paleolithic diet, or as it is commonly called in short: paleo. The Paleo diet was introduced to the world in 2002 and is based on the claim that in order to maintain our health we must eat in the same way as the ancient human diet: consumption of foods with high nutritional value such as: meat, fish, vegetables, nuts and avoidance of carbohydrates, processed foods. 

The benefits of this type of diet for exercisers are many and among them can include a decrease in blood sugar levels and an increase in the feeling of satiety that in the long run will reduce body weight, increase protein availability, thus allowing the building of muscle mass. For these reasons, many trainers believe that the adoption of high-intensity physical training along with a unique diet will allow for a faster improvement in physical abilities 

But is a paleo diet really effective for intense strength training? An important fact to note is that CrossFit training is a relatively new training and also the Paleo diet is gaining popularity only in recent years. Therefore, at this point in time, there are still not enough studies that will examine the long-term effects of this training and of combining one diet or another. 

A first study on the subject recently published in the International Journal of Exercise Physiology casts doubt on the effectiveness of the combination of the two. The study examined the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet (the Paleo diet) on the performance of CrossFit trainees, and at the same time monitored the metabolic requirements during training. 

The results of the study show that during CrossFit training that included a combination of intense training sessions without rest, the body's energy requirement in the aerobic (with oxygen) pathways significantly increased, but especially in the anaerobic (without oxygen) ones. One of the important energy providers of these two pathways is the glycogen molecules that are stored in muscles and liver. This molecule serves as a reservoir for energy available mainly in the anaerobic pathways, and in practice, during intense training, a low-carbohydrate diet may result in a decrease in it. 

In practice, the study found that after 6 days of a paleo diet combined with training, there was a decrease in the maximum number of repetitions of the exercises performed by the trainees, and an increase in muscle acidity. This is compared to their ability when performing the same workouts with a high-carbohydrate diet. 

These results are not surprising, despite the popularity of the Paleo diet among various athletes. The book "Paleo Diet for The Athletes" by Joe Priel, published in 2005, claims that the basic paleo diet is not suitable for athletes or athletes in sports with intense physical demands. The reason is that the energy requirements in these sports are higher than the requirements held by ancient man. Therefore, the author recommends significantly increasing the number of complex carbohydrates in the diet, before competitions or during a period of intense training 

The secret ingredient to long runs 

Another example of combining sports with extreme physiological requirements for the trend of adapted nutrition can also be found among ultra-marathon runners, some of whom often adopt a vegan diet or a high-carbohydrate diet. On the other hand, it turns out that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet such as the Paleo diet is effective in improving the ability to run long distances. 

A first study conducted among ultra-marathon runners and published in the Journal of Food and Nutrition magazine shows that during long-distance marathon training it is recommended to incorporate a carbohydrate-rich diet. The study that analyzed the dietary habits of 161km ultra-marathon finishers found that the only variable that improved while running was the amount of fat molecules they consumed during training. The more fat the runners consumed the faster they ran. 

The physiological reason for these results is that in long-distance running up to a marathon it is of significant importance to produce energy from the body's carbohydrate stores (glycogen) when regular carbohydrate intake causes an increase in glycogen stores in the body. In contrast, at longer running distances like an ultra-marathon they both last longer and also have a slower running pace, so runners rely on energy production mainly from breaking down fat stores. 

During training, it is important to train the body to utilize fat molecules through a diet rich in fat and low in carbohydrates. This is in addition to the fact that long workouts require a high-calorie intake, especially fats which are a nutrient with a higher energy content that satisfies the body’s needs in an optimal way. 

However, it is important to note that these are preliminary studies conducted on small groups of subjects, so the results of the studies should be taken with caution. In any situation it is recommended that trainees in intense sports with extreme metabolic requirements do not adopt this or that trend of a diet method, but rather consult a clinical nutritionist to adjust a nutritional plan. Important to remember: Adopting a dietary trend can not only harm the effects of training, but over time create nutritional deficiencies that can harm trainees' health. 

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