Another question – exercise and carbs?

exercise and carbs - PastaAfter making the post How to stay healthy in the business setting? my friend sent me the following response which included another question;

Thanks, Peter! I saw the post last night and read it 2-3 times. A very good response. It’s clear you’ve struggled with the same things I do. I’m a naturally social and outgoing guy, so it’s incredibly difficult for me to say no. But I think that’s what I need to start doing.

One other question: with your new diet, do you find your energy levels dragging? The few times I’ve attempted a near-vegetarian diet, I always find myself dragging. I do a lot of endurance sports (mostly biking these days), and that makes cutting out the carbs difficult. Maybe carbs pre-ride, and then back to a raw diet?

This is another great question that’s had my mind racing. My first reaction to “do you find your energy levels dragging?” is “No!”. Actually I find it absolutely the opposite. I’ve never had so much energy. That could be for many reasons, like losing 80 pounds of body weight or avoiding lots of toxins, but I’m pretty sure the diet is playing a big part in this. I recently went on a ski holiday and skied six days in a row and felt great. Plenty of energy indeed (I’d love to hear your experiences with this and if they are consistent or different to mine – you can leave a comment at the bottom of the page).

Diet, exercise and losing weight

One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is how exercise is linked to losing weight. Many people think you have to exercise a lot to lose weight. You see it everywhere. On TV programs like “biggest loser” (I only see this on the advertisements) there are always fat people working out like crazy in the gym. It looks a little bit like madness to me. Often when people notice I’ve lost weight, they say something like “are you working out?” as if that’s the only way to lose weight.

I’ve lost 80 pounds and I’d have to say I probably don’t do enough exercise. I would like to be doing more. My average exercise recently is 30 minutes of yoga at home every day (feels really good for me – see What got me started in yoga?), taking the stairs and never taking the elevator, 15-30 minutes on the exercise bike about 1-2 times a week and the occasional walk. Not much. I’ve pretty much proved to myself that the biggest factor for me in weight control is diet. If I was still eating some foods that were not good for me, I’d probably need to ramp up the exercise to keep the weight in check.

I’d say that the key to weight control is to get your diet into good shape. Then exercise as much as you’d like to, or need to, to stay healthy. I’m the first to admit that it would be better for me to do more exercise. However, I don’t need to do that to control my weight, I need to do it to be healthier and fitter.

One thing that I come across over and over again is that the things we are taught, the things propagated to us in advertising and the things we commonly believe are very often not true. You can lose weight very easily without going to the gym for three hours a day.

exercise and carbs - Variety of fruits in wicker basket isolated on whiteDoes a raw food diet mean no carbs?

I guess we all assume that vegan and raw food diets mean no carbs and of course we all know that you can’t exercise without carbs, right? Well, of course not. Vegans and raw foodists still get carbs and it’s quite possible to exercise without carbs flooding the system. Just think about people living in the wild – haven’t found any food for a couple of days and they still have to walk miles and maybe end up chasing some food. Our bodies are designed to operate happily on fat stores (see the post Some Personal Experiences with Fasting).

For anyone who enjoys serious exercise, I can’t recommend enough the website Marks Daily Apple. Lots of good information and plenty of pages relating hard exercise to everything about diet and fasting. Here’s one quote from this page on the site;

So, how does an endurance athlete go as “primal as possible”? Here’s my take. When you go for endurance training, you face (among other physical strains) the necessity of increased carb intake and all its negative results (e.g. inflammation, AGEs, impaired immune function, etc.). Myself, I had a half-gallon of ice cream, loaf of bread and cereal habit going to refuel every day for years. At the time, I didn’t see an obvious impact on my performance, but I later realized I was causing long term damage. A better, more Primal approach to a training diet includes meals full of veggies (universal recommendation, yes) as well as the judicious use of fruits and tubers for added “healthier than grains” carb sources. (Of course, your diet should include a hefty supply of protein and natural fats.)

And here’s another quote from this page on another website;

“Carbohydrate” refers to any sugar or compound of sugar molecules strung together. Each sugar is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio CH2O, plus the sun’s energy that was trapped during their combination… Only plants make carbohydrates. Flesh food has zero carbs, one reason why high-protein diets are so dangerous. Every part of a plant – its fruits, seeds, leaves, stalks and roots – has free-floating sugars (simple carbohydrates) or strings of sugar (complex carbohydrates).

Carbohydrates are really just sugars and when we eat them they have a very similar effect on the body. This is explained a bit in Some Personal Experiences with Fasting. Refined carbohydrates are especially bad, similar to eating refined sugar.

Can you exercise hard without conventional carbs?

Yes!! Here are just two examples to clearly show the point. These people are both really inspirational.

Dr. Ruth Heidrich – “a seasoned raw vegan Ironman (or as she likes to say, “IronLADY”) Triathlete. She is the winner of more than 900 trophies, 6 Ironman Triathlons, 8 Gold Medals in the U.S.Senior Olympics, and 67 marathons including Boston, New York, & Moscow. Named One of the Ten Fittest Women in North America, she is also a breast cancer survivor”

Arne Wingqvist – born in 1919, vegetarian since 1931 – here’s a couple of quotes from him;

Summer 1954 I moved back to Sweden and that year I took part in the “Great Fasting Walkathon” from Gothenburg to Stockholm. We fasted for 17 days, August 1-17. We were all together 11 men, and we drank only water. The first ten days we walked 50 km, about 31 miles, per day, and during the last seven days medical doctors examined us, taking all kinds of tests. They told us we were in better shape than before we started. The average loss of weight was about 9-10 kilos. We were on the front pages of many newspapers in Sweden for fourteen days. We had television in those days. Also the press in many countries all over the world were writing about the Fasting Walkathon.

1987 I organized an international bicycle tour in Sweden. From Kiruna in the North, above the Artic Circle, to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, 1.410 kms. (881 miles). We were all together 7 persons, some joining part of the way, according to aggrement at time of registration, but I and two more participants made it right to the finish. Among them was Sigrid De Leo, EVU Secretary. During the trip we had only fresh fruit, nuts, and fresh, raw, vegetables to eat, and water to drink. We wanted to prove that on this bill of fare one could achieve a strenuous work during a longer period, from 15 of July to 2 of August, 19 days, and still feeling in top shape.

exercise and carbs - Fresh vegetablesExercise and Carbs – Conclusions 

Vegetarians can be top athletes. Vegetarians get carbs in their diets. You don’t need carbs to exercise, but if you’re going to do some serious endurance training you might. Fruits and tubers (like carrots) are probably the best sources of carbs.

To answer the question of my friend who says his finds his energy levels are dragging, I’d bet this is because the body is finding it hard to get out of glucose (carbs turn into glucose quickly when digested) burning mode and getting into fat-burning mode. It could take a few days for the body to remember how to burn fat again (see my notes on Marks Daily Apple and also Some Personal Experiences with Fasting). It would be worth another try and well worth searching Marks Daily Apple for some more inspiration for athletes. He proposes a “primal” diet, whereas I’d say a raw diet is better, but I have to acknowledge that both primal and raw are enormously better than the conventionally accepted diets of the western world. The two amazing athletes listed above are raw food athletes.

Good luck!

2 Responses to “Another question – exercise and carbs?”

  1. Jessica

    I eat a mostly raw food diet and I have found myself dragging at times. Initially I thought that the only solution was to eat meat so I would have a small portion once a week. Then I experimented and found that I could replace the meat with dark, leafy greens. I doubled my daily intake of greens such as kale and spinach and, since, have found myself dragging only when I’ve not eaten enough of them for, say, seven days in a row.

    I was working out at a gym three times a week for the first two years that I was eating this diet. I expected that I would need to supplement my diet so I experimented with adding protein powder and spirulina powder to the smoothies that I would make myself each day. The results of my experiments with spirulina astonished me (and my personal trainer and my doctor). When taking spirulina, I didn’t experience asthma during exercise (as I had done all of my life) so I could stop relying upon Ventolin and Becotide. I also found that I could increase the speed at which I was rowing and the number of weights on the machines that I was using dramatically week by week. I was Popeye and spirulina was my spinach!

    • Pete

      Thanks Jess. Nice to hear about your positive experiences with spirulina. I like adding powdered spirulina to my green smoothies and I take tablet form spirulina with me when I’m on a trip. It’s like a little power punch of nutrition.


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