When it comes to performance nutrition, the "logic" behind the science is relatively straightforward - "Change diet, measure performance. Change diet again. Measure performance."
So, when a recently published study of elite distance walkers found that a low carbohydrate diet "impairs exercise economy and negates the performance benefit from intensified training in elite race walkers" that was quickly held up as proof that low carb just doesn't cut it.
But look what happened next.....
I have previously referred to ketogenic and/or low carb diets as potentially powerful "tools" for athletes here - not necessarily an "all the time" thing but certainly a "sometimes" thing. For example, if we know that elite gymnasts can improve body composition, lose weight and retain strength and power after 4 weeks on a ketogenic diet, why has NOBODY proposed that approach to an elite jumper for example? No other sporting discipline is so purely dependent upon optimising the power to weight ratio to improve performance.
As an ex high jumper, I have to ask (again) is sports science only about endurance and stuff you can measure in a lab? Do athletes kissing 8 feet with their ass not warrant investigation? It is 22, 24 and 26 years respectively since the world records in the men's triple, high and long jumps have been broken.
Where's all the "sports" science on that?
Success in any jumping code is ALL about height, trajectory and the transfer of speed to vertical height. Knocking a percentile OFF the weight being transferred is not a minor thing - it is potentially an "every" thing for a jumper sniffing a record.
When he set the existing world high jump record at the Salamanca Invitational track meet in 1993, the great Cuban Javier Sotomayor required only four jumps: he took his first jump at 2.32 metres, passed at 2.35, cleared 2.38 metres on his first attempt, then had the bar raised to a record height of 2.45, which he cleared on his second attempt. A loping style meant that his run up was not particularly fast or energetic.
Sotomayor's explosiveness was technically confined to those magical final few steps before planting the take-off foot that make or break the high jumper's ambitions. Even if we are generous, he would have taken no more than 10 to 12 "demanding" strides during those 4 leaps on his path to greatness. That's hardly glycolytic! Physiologically, there would be no requirement for glucose as fuel to meet such short term, explosive requirements.
It begs the question - if there is no requirement for glucose to break a world record, and there may be benefits to taking a glucose "time out", why has that not been investigated?
Sotomayor was 6' 5" and 82 kgs at his best. Had he been 80 or 81 kgs, we can only speculate how much higher he could have gone. Could he have cut weight strategically using a ketogenic phase of dieting - without compromising power?
All of which brings me to the Canadian walker Evan Dunfee's destruction of the Canadian national record in the 50km walk - by over 4 minutes - 10 days AFTER he completed the keto phase in the aforementioned trial. At the end of that keto phase, Dunfee's performance had dipped - considerably so - but Prof Tim Noakes is adamant that we need to reconsider assessing athletes on such acute measures as performance DURING a trial at a specific point in time. If that makes sense intuitively, then it is Dunfee who has perhaps crystallised it quite superbly by comparing his period in ketosis to altitude training.
“Altitude is a perfect analogy,” Dunfee said. “And when you come back off the diet, you have adaptations that are advantageous to perform better under ideal conditions with carbs. So that’s the idea, and it could be quite game-changing in terms of sports nutrition guidelines, and what’s recommended.”
In the human body, there is very real lag effect that no "acute" testing can catch when a subject leaves the lab. This is most evident in drug use where athletes dope at one strategic point in time to gain an advantage at a later date - by which time the drugs have left the system.
In all of this, we would do well to remember that sport is first and foremost about athletes and when it comes to performance gains - illegal or otherwise - those on the front line will pretty much always be ahead of the chasing pack.
With his altitude analogy, Dunfee may have taken keto to the top of the hill by redefining how it should - and could - be used.
Now. Go to your doorway. Look at the mantle above the door. Add a foot or so to that. Yes, you may be at the ceiling. That’s where all 82kgs of Javier Sotomayor used to hang out.....
Altitude and keto.
Damned if I didn’t think of it myself. I love it.