Day 24 – Triathlete Nutrition Testing

150 Days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

You Are What You Eat

Nutrition is a very volatile subject. Suppose you and I are eating lunch together and all I eat is a medium-well ribeye steak, two eggs over easy and a glass of water. Not a single plant near my plate. No butter. No bread. No nuthin’ but meat, eggs and water.

You’d say something. I know you would. Maybe you’d try to be polite and say something like, “That sure is a lot of protein.” On the other hand, perhaps you are more direct and you’d tell me, “That can’t be good for you.”

This example may be extreme, but it is real. Not LG real: Pete Jacobs real. Pete is an IRONMAN athlete and he is pure carnivore. He doesn’t let anything pass his lips but meat, fish, eggs, salt and water. Like I said: he’s extreme. My dog gets more fiber than Pete.

The Story of Pete

I heard about Pete on a Triathlon Taren podcast. And although his diet is not for me, I totally respect what he’s doing and why. From the start he tells his audience that his diet is not for everybody. He’s not evangelizing. He doesn’t need other people to buy into a carnivore diet. Pete is very different from most people who talk about nutrition, because most people are either trying to sell something or get the rest of the world to eat the way they do.

His whole story is one of trial, error and research. The amount of research he’s done is impressive (at least to hear him talk about it is impressive). Through studying the research and trying different dietary routines, he found a lifestyle and diet that worked for him. It simply works, regardless of what the future implications might be. And his assessment of the literature tells him that there is a very weak link (if any) between his diet and disease.

I tend to disagree with his assessment of the literature. I think there’s some pretty good evidence that animal protein can be linked to promoting certain types of cancer (T. Colin Campbell, 2004, The China Study). [Note that promoting cancer is not the same as causing cancer]. However, I’m not writing this to refute Pete Jacobs’ diet. In fact, I want to celebrate his message.

Pete’s Message

If you listen to the podcast and I think you should, your first thought may be that Pete’s message is for everyone to become a carnivore. And you’d be wrong.

Although he strongly advises all people to cut back, if not give up, highly refined and processed sugars and grains, that’s not his core message either. What Pete is evangelizing is practical and personal science. His core message is for each of us to construct a hypothesis as to why we might not be feeling or performing the way we would like and then make a test of that hypothesis. For example…

My Examples

Here is how I’ve gone about testing the effect of different diets on my overall feeling of health. When it comes to performance and fitness, I have no idea how these diets mattered, because I didn’t measure performance. However, I will be monitoring performance closely this year. On to some examples.

1. Atkins

Around 2000, I was pumping iron regularly and wanted to lose a bit of fat weight. I tried the Atkins diet for 30 days and although I lost a bit of weight, I didn’t care for the constipation. I simply could not eat enough fiber and follow the guidelines of the diet, so needless to say, my digestive system was not too happy. This was about six years before I discovered endurance sport, so I can’t tell you about performance. I’m sure this diet is great for some people, but not me. On day 31 I was back to pancakes for breakfast and donuts for every other time of the day.

2. Gluten Free

This section is going straight to the point so if you don’t want to read about the terminal effects of digestion, skip ahead to the part where I say, “Until tomorrow…”

I’ve had gut problems for the last… all my life. I can eat a little bit and feel completely bloated. And my bowel habits have been really bad. I can spend half the day on the toilet, finish my business and five minutes later feel like there’s a round in the chamber. On the bright side I do get a lot of reading done.

Lori suggested I try a gluten free diet. She was experimenting with it and thought it might be fun for both of us to deny ourselves the pleasures of pancakes and donuts. For me it lasted about two weeks. I was very strict about it too, but it made no changes in my gut. Maybe I didn’t try it long enough.

On a positive note, I no longer crave pancakes or donuts. A day or two after finishing the diet, I ordered a short stack of hot cakes and they were awful. Not sure about the reason behind the donuts. They simply don’t appeal to me anymore.

3. Plant Based

Don’t tell my friends and coworkers I did this one. I’ve been heavily involved in the beef and pork industries since the 1980’s.

Still suffering from issues of digestion, I recently refrained from eating animal products for 30 days. I was determined to see if all the hype of the veggie burger movement would have a positive impact on my digestive issues. I refuse to allow myself to be called a vegan. I was not a vegan. I wore leather boots.

The diet consisted mostly of beans, rice, soups and very high fiber salads. There were some carb laden ingredients such as potatoes and a bit of bread, but mostly I ate the other stuff. Many people on this diet make amazing claims of high energy and increased athletic performance and feeling great and finally gaining membership to Mensa.

I’m not so sure about the Mensa thing.

I experienced none of that. I don’t know about athletic performance because I wasn’t measuring that, but I did experience a big difference in bowel habits and time on the toilet. If beans, soups and salads aren’t enough to do the trick, nothing is.

Back to Being Me

The day after coming off the no-animal-product-not-vegan diet I had a steak. Steak has never tasted so good. My eating habits have, however, changed quite a bit. I’m eating way more fiber than before and I’m eating way less sugary doughy things than I used to. Also, “Dropping the kids off at the pool” has never been easier. That may be the only noticeable positive change, but it’s a big one. My father had Krohn’s disease and I was diagnosed with IBS, so anything that helps with digestion is a step in the right direction.

The Bottom (line)

How you make your dietary decisions is up to you, but if I want a structured nutrition plan these are the choices I see:

  1. Ride the latest fads or stick to outdated government guidelines.
  2. Read the scientific literature and make your own decisions.
  3. Trial and error.

The most rational thing to do would be a combination of the last two choices. There are probably few people who can thrive on Pete Jacobs’ diet, but everyone can take control of their nutrition and think more logically about their daily nutrition as well as race nutrition.

Until tomorrow…