Were the All Blacks low carb, kinda low carb or not at all low carb?
In this context, Prof Grant Scholfield's interview with the team's Strength & Conditioning Coach Dr Nic Gill here is probably as revealing as it's gonna get.
“I’d say most professional sports teams are now at least low sugar, lower to low carb. That’s not always high fat, but its healthy fats. Nutrition for sport is really changing fast.” Dr Nic Gill
While Gill is clearly indicating that the team have dialled back their sugar and carb intake, I would not expect him to reveal their habitual diets in forensic detail.
Why should he?
In 2007 I was very fortunate to have a guided tour behind the curtain of Irish rugby. I spent 12 months completing the IRFU's Certified Conditioning Course as a guest of Dr Liam Hennessy - the sports scientist who guided Ireland's physical transition to the professional ranks with a remarkable eye for detail. When professionalism loomed, the southern hemisphere teams were at least 5kgs heavier per man than their Irish opponents. Liam knew that this was an enormous (and typically insurmountable) power handicap against the big guns so he set to work building men made for the modern code.
That a typical Irish rugby debutant had a "training age" of zero was down to the lack of a development program at that (pre-pro) time. Liam shared with me the stats, the diets and the physical preparation the players were undertaking on his watch. My conclusion was that players lived in a superbly managed environment of excellence - as one would expect for a professional code. He was the first scientist (to my knowledge) to make systematic use of cryo chambers - in Poland as there were none in Ireland at that time - for pre season training blocks. The chambers apparently reduced recovery time between sessions, thus increasing the number of training units the squad could undertake in any time critical training camp. Mo Farah would approve.
This information was carefully protected - for a lot longer than it would have been in today's twitterverse of course (but still only a season if I recall correctly). It was in such margins that Liam was looking for the elusive edge to creep ever closer to the All Blacks et al. His tenure climaxed with a Grand Slam win in 2009 - Ireland's first since 1948 - by which time the All Blacks were of course prepping for their 2011 World Cup win.
The mighty All Blacks do not stand still.
In "Run on Fat" Dr Peter Brukner suggests that a real food/low carb intervention is a 1% er in the professional codes.
It is an edge, not an everything.
Of course, science does not "know" what low carb actually means - there is no clinically accepted definition for research purposes - but the Nic Gill's of sport do not care. Likewise, Tim di Francesco at the L.A Lakers isn't waiting around for double blind trials to tell him that a sweet potato beats a sports drink as a superior glycolytic fuel option. Both coaches have dialled back the sugar within their respective environments of excellence.
How about the Australian legend David Pocock? He lined out against the All Blacks as a contender for player of the tournament and World Player of the Year (one of 6 nominees). Not bad for a guy recovering from blown out knees. Had the Wallabies pipped the All Blacks the focus may well have been the contribution his habitual diet played in a remarkable sequence of performances.
When I met him earlier this year in Cape Town, he told me a low carb high fat approach was working for him. A very low carb (<50g/day) strategy left him lacking punch, so he upped it a bit to a level that felt right. Gaelic footballer Andy Moran has done exactly the same thing. So too many Australian Rules footballers and one European soccer team.
To those scientists who scream foul and "this is not low carb at all" I would ask this - what the hell is it then? When Pocock's team mates are smashing >500g/day is 150g low enough for you? This is a world class power athlete who has lost 2kgs of body fat while retaining lean muscle mass - and burst back on to the world scene for good measure.
"No athlete requires more than 200g/carbs per day" Prof Tim Noakes
And that's the thing. There is no one size fits all. Fat adaptation is not a black and white issue. It is an n=1. And every athlete out there is an n=1.
The All Blacks win - and Pocock's return to eminence - may not provide any scientific proof that "sugar is bad", but the dial is clearly moving away from sports drinks and junk fast fuel sources.
It was 1991 when Tim Noakes first sounded the alarms bells on the dangers of over hydration in endurance sports. What was controversial then is accepted science now - even if the message remains capped by billion dollar sports drink brands.
By the time history has decided if this All Blacks team is the greatest rugby team of all time, there is a very strong chance that Noakes will have been proven right - again.
"You don't need sports drinks, eat less carbs and isn't this All Blacks team the greatest of all time?"
Throw that line out down the pub tonight and who knows, you may get to tell your mates "I told you so" in 2035.
If you're running on fat, you should be around to enjoy it and all.