‘You get used to eat­ing pack­ets of but­ter’

Race­walker Dun­fee dishes on his high-fat diet

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - LORI EWING

TORONTO — On the days Evan Dun­fee hasn’t in­gested enough fat, he’ll melt but­ter in the mi­crowave and then toss it back like tequila.

You’d think fat and Olympic-level per­for­mance would be mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

But the 26-year-old Dun­fee, who be­came one of the feel-good sto­ries of the Rio Olympics when he grace­fully de­clined an op­por­tu­nity to ap­peal his fourth-place fin­ish in the 50-kilo­me­tre race walk, is part of a ground­break­ing study at the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport on the ef­fects of a low-car­bo­hy­drate, high­fat diet on en­durance events.

“You just get used to eat­ing pack­ets of but­ter,” Dun­fee said of the diet. “It kind of be­comes part of what we do to keep our fat in­take up. Dur­ing 40K long (train­ing) walks, we will eat cheese and peanut but­ter cook­ies. So it’s rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to any­thing any of us are used to. I don’t think any­one would ever rec­om­mend eat­ing cheese when you’re three hours into a train­ing ses­sion.”

Dun­fee will come off the diet Fri­day af­ter a chal­leng­ing three weeks. Barely a few days in, the six-footone ath­lete had al­ready dropped al­most nine pounds, plum­met­ing to the light­est he’d been since he was 15 years old. He tweeted a pic­ture of the scale read­ing 63.90 kilo­grams (141 pounds).

To rectify the weight loss, he con­sumed a glass of whip­ping cream, doc­u­ment­ing it on Twit­ter with photo of him hold­ing up the full cup and a stray bit of cream stuck in his red beard.

The sci­ence be­hind the diet, sim­ply put, is that strictly lim­it­ing car­bo­hy­drates forces the body into ke­to­sis, a state where fat is burned as a fuel rather than car­bo­hy­drates. Even a slen­der ath­lete like Dun­fee car­ries enough fat stores to fuel days of ex­er­cise, he ex­plained, while glu­cose is lim­ited and has to be re­plen­ished dur­ing ex­er­cise.

Dun­fee par­tic­i­pated in Part 1 of the study last year, the re­sults of which were re­cently pub­lished, and 10 days af­ter com­ing off of the lowcarb diet he oblit­er­ated the Cana­dian record in the 50 kilo­me­tres by over four min­utes.

The Rich­mond, B.C., na­tive said he is not en­tirely sure ex­actly what pro­pelled him to the record. It might have been the diet and the phys­i­o­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions his body had made from be­ing on it. Or per­haps it was more a men­tal tough­ness gained while train­ing on such a strict diet. Or maybe it was just the fact he’d spent sev­eral weeks in Aus­tralia train­ing with some of the world’s best walk­ers.

“That race al­most felt easy,” Dun­fee said. “So that re­ally piqued my in­ter­est of say­ing ‘OK, maybe there’s some­thing here.’”

Count­less top ath­letes cer­tainly be­lieve there’s some­thing there. Cleve­land Cava­liers star LeBron James fa­mously dropped a large amount of weight (he never spec­i­fied how much) in 2014 by fol­low­ing a ke­to­genic diet for 67 days. Bri­tish cy­clist Chris Froome cred­ited a lowcarb diet with pro­pel­ling him to three Tour de France ti­tles. The Aus­tralian cricket team had a turn­around in form af­ter col­lec­tively slim­ming down on a low-carb diet.

Cana­dian javelin thrower Liz Glea­dle talks fondly about grass­fed but­ter like some of us would choco­late cake.

“Who’s ever dis­sat­is­fied with eat­ing some­thing that’s been cov­ered in grass-fed but­ter and gar­lic and olive oil and salt? It’s never not a tasty op­tion,” Glea­dle said. “You re­ally learn a lot about your choice of quality of foods, you’re look­ing for re­ally high-quality fats, and when you have them you don’t feel bad about them, which is a re­ally nice feel­ing.”

The 28-year-old Van­cou­ver na­tive started cut­ting down on carbs last year to com­bat the lethargy she was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing be­tween prac­tices. Af­ter some ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and plenty of re­search — “The Big Fat Sur­prise” and “Pri­mal Blueprint” were at the top of her read­ing list. She’s re­duced the amount of carbs she con­sumes dur­ing the week when train­ing. On week­ends, which she takes a break from train­ing, she’ll eat an ex­cep­tion­ally lowcarb diet or even fast for 16 hours. The re­sults? “Big things I no­ticed were un­be­liev­able men­tal clar­ity. I went from hav­ing to nap or watch TV be­cause I could barely fo­cus on a book, to all I do now all day be­tween prac­tices is read and re­search,” said Glea­dle, who won gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. “My skin got in­fin­itely health­ier. It was re­ally no­tice­able, I was get­ting tons of com­pli­ments from peo­ple ‘You look great, what have you done?’

Glea­dle said she also notices that her joints don’t hurt in the morning.

A quick so­cial me­dia search of the hash­tags “keto” or “LCHF” sug­gests that a low-carb, high-fat move­ment that is grow­ing among the gen­eral pub­lic.

Trent Stelling­w­erff, an ap­plied sport phys­i­ol­o­gist who works with many of Canada’s top ath­letes, cau­tions that high-per­for­mance ath­letes have dif­fer­ent di­etary needs than the av­er­age per­son.

“There is a whole huge bur­geon­ing un­der­ground of av­er­age peo­ple who are be­ing more con­scious of how much car­bo­hy­drates they have in their diet,” he said. “But this diet for health and weight out­comes is to­tally dif­fer­ent and sep­a­rate than look­ing at this from a per­for­mance per­spec­tive. And some­times those lines get blurred.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Canada Food Guide, 45 to 65 per cent of our diet should come from car­bo­hy­drates, or be­tween 210 and 290 grams per day as part of an av­er­age 1,800-calo­rie diet.

Glea­dle con­sumes be­tween 70 and 130 grams a day dur­ing the week. Dun­fee has con­sumed about 40 grams a day as part of Aus­tralian Louise Burke’s study.

Dun­fee and Mat Bilodeau of Cal­gary are among 28 race walk­ers from around the world tak­ing part in the study. Af­ter the diet ends Fri­day, ath­letes will be tested and mon­i­tored for sev­eral weeks. Dun­fee com­pared the rig­or­ous prac­tice to alti­tude train­ing, and its adap­ta­tions the body makes to train­ing with less oxy­gen.

“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.”

Dun­fee be­came one of Canada’s most pop­u­lar ath­letes at the Rio Olympics when he fin­ished fourth af­ter be­ing jos­tled and thrown off his stride by Hirooki Arai. The Ja­panese walker was dis­qual­i­fied but then re­in­stated af­ter an ap­peal. Dun­fee chose not to launch a counter-ap­peal.

EVAN DUN­FEE, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Olympic race­walker Evan Dun­fee, 26, holds a cup of whip­ping cream that he downed to rectify weight loss. He is part of a ground­break­ing study at the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport on the ef­fects of a low-car­bo­hy­drate, high-fat diet on en­durance events.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Evan Dun­fee won the men’s 20 km race walk at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015.

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