This evening, in the supermarket, I spent several minutes examining the relative carbohydrate contents of different brands of low fat soft cheese. A couple of minutes that, if the TA radio ads are to be believed, could have been spent on something much more worthwhile, such as thinking of something more worthwhile to do, or playing Draw Something.
You probably think that’s nuts, and my two-year-ago self would agree, so why would I do it?
Because myself and the fella are at the start of The Diet (always with capitals) – otherwise known as, the diet phase. It’s what bodybuilders do when they’ve spent months consuming thousands of calories and working incredibly hard to build muscle; they then spent some time before competitions and events ‘cutting back’, or helping their bodies to use some of the inevitable body fat that comes with consuming such large volumes of calories, whilst retaining that muscle definition as much as possible.
This cutting back (which is why he does it) means different things to different people; for him, it’s a low carb diet. You (roughly) count the carbs – namely, sugars and starches – in everything, and cut out anything with a moderate to high carb content. I initially did it because it’s easier to do that when you live with someone and you eat together often, but also because I didn’t want to feel bad eating noodles when he was on steamed fish and veggies.
Thanks to the hype around the Atkins diet and others, there’s a general concern that low-carb diets are unhealthy, or even dangerous; it encourages high cholesterol, some people on it pass out, you don’t poo for days and your breath stinks. I’m sure that all of the above can be true, if your low-carb plan follows a certain path – if you eat bacon, sausage and fried eggs every morning, then yes, your cholesterol will be shocking. But if you eat lean protein and plenty of salad and vegetables, and ensure you get plenty of water and fibre, then it doesn’t have to be the meat-loaded grease-fest that will send you in to an early grave.
I actually quite enjoy The Diet. There are some things I miss – beans and pulses, which, whilst healthy foods, contain roughly as much carb content as protein, and thus are outon this particular regime; the crispiness of a proper thin-crust italian pizza; udon noodles (god I love those fat, slippery bastards); delicious pasta sauces coating slightly chewy linguine. But look – I’m writing this whilst consuming my diet treat, which consists of a little bit of a cheese I enjoy, and a small glass of red wine. What’s not to love about a diet in which that is a regular reward?!
Why is this relevant to my training? A couple of reasons: firstly, the initial stage of my training will take place while I’m off carbs – in other words, the body’s most easily convertible source of fuel. This will have an impact on my ability to train. Secondly, my understanding of how the body uses fuel both before, during and after physical exertion has massively increased in the last two years, since I first dipped a toe in the water of it (and starting quizzing the fella about the contents of his supplements and shakes). This means that I have more understanding than I have ever had about a) what my body needs to get through a run/cycle and b) what I can do to help it recover, so I can get up tomorrow without having to be helped out of bed, and do it all over again.
There will be more to come on The Diet, and how it works with my training; for now, I’m treating myself tonight because this is the end of my first full week (after a false start and a night out in Leeds, which resulted in a remedial local delicacy the next day in Newcastle that was definitely not diet-compliant!) and I’ve done really bloody well.
(In case you’re interested: Extra Light Philly, 1.5g per 30g; Sainsbury’s Be Good To Yourself Soft Cheese, 1.1g per 30g; Sainsbury’s Lighter Soft Cheese, 0.9g per 30g. I bought the latter; I shall taste test and report back…)