‘BANTING HELPED ME BECOME A WINNING CYCLIST’
WINNING CYCLIST NÉDENE CAHILL INTRODUCED BANTING TO THE CARBO-LOADING WORLD OF CYCLING. THE RESULTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.
Why Nédene Cahill advises other athletes to go LCHF
How did you get into cycling?
I’ve been cycling competitively since 2011 – some would call me a late bloomer because I only got into it in my 30s! I race in the Masters category, which is for the over 30s who missed the boat professionally. For someone my age, it’s as professional as you get. I was always athletic at school, but didn’t do anything for 10 years after school. I got into a bad habit of partying, drinking and smoking. Picking up a bike at 27 was the best thing for me.
What made you switch to a low carb high fat diet?
I was always on a diet because you need to be as light as possible for cycling. But at the same time, I had a serious sugar problem. When I decided to get back into sport, I had to quit the partying and everything that came with it. But I just turned to sugar – chocolates replaced smoking. It was a case of switching one vice for another. And I’d swing between two extremes: I’d binge on sugar, then crash diet because I felt so guilty. It got so bad that I didn’t know who I’d become – something had to change. Going cold turkey didn’t work. Desperate to discover a way to get rid of sugar cravings, I came across banting. It sounded great but I couldn’t see how it would work with cycling. I had six months before the World Champs so I thought I’d try it for two months, then, if it didn’t work, I’d have time to go back to my regular diet.
You must have had raised eyebrows from other cyclists when they heard you were cutting carbs?
People thought I was nuts. I was training with water while they all had sugary energy drinks. At first, when the diet didn’t seem to be working, people blamed banting and urged me to go back to carbs – for the sake of my cycling.
What results have you seen on the LCHF diet?
I’ve only been banting since February 2014 – six months before the race of my life, the World Championships. I decided to stick with banting in the lead up to the race – a massive risk. I don’t usually do marathon distances in cycling, but because it was World Champs I had to go for it. I got off to a bad start and was way at the back – any commentator would have said I had no chance. As the race went on, I slowly caught up. I wasn’t necessarily speeding up, but I felt I could go at a constant pace for a long time. Before, I’d get tired and lose ground towards the end of a race, which is very normal in cycling. So when the other girls started to slow down 40km to 50km into the race, I kept getting closer and closer to the front – and ended up winning! I couldn’t believe it. So much of endurance cycling is about the mental capacity to push past the feeling of giving up and collapsing. It’s as if I’ve developed a superpower to bypass that feeling. I went on to win a second world title in 2014.
What challenges did you face adopting the diet?
My biggest worry was having enough energy to sustain me through long races. Most cyclists carbo-load. I spoke to Prof Noakes who suggested I up the good carbs before a race. It took about three months to adapt because I wasn’t very strict – I’d give in to sugar. It was one step forward, two steps back. So it wasn’t easy, and it took a while to see results, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. It’s completely paid off.
What other diets have you tried?
I’ve been on low-fat diets all my life and I believe that has messed up my metabolism and fuelled my addiction to sugar. I will never go down that road again. I tried Paleo, which is similar to banting, but what attracted me to banting was that it was more suited to my tastes than Paleo – I enjoy dairy, for example.
What foods make up most of your diet now?
I like to eat simple foods and only eat from the Green List. The most common food in my diet is eggs – I might invest in some chickens! Once in a while, I like to try an interesting new recipe like banting pizza, but for the most part I keep it simple. And I do enjoy a good banting treat.
When everyone else is carbo-loading before the race, what do you do?
I eat sweet potatoes and eggs and they keep me going to the end without energy dips or crashes.
Would you advise other endurance athletes to follow this diet?
The best part about this diet is that it gives you stable endurance and energy, so I would definitely advise other athletes to adopt the lifestyle. I’ve already done presentations promoting the banting lifestyle and its benefits for athletic performance.
Have other cyclists adopted banting after seeing your success?
Many cyclists now bant, but I can’t say whether it was due to me. I hope my presentations and my ‘Ask-An-Athlete’ programme will help athletes transition from a high carb to a low carb diet.