Next time you order your chicken rice dish… go without the rice, but ask for an extra serving of chicken and vegetables.
This had been just one of the unorthodox tips shared by Ben Pulham – a former professional triathlete from New Zealand and now a fitness consultant – who also co-founded Journey Fitness Company in Singapore with his partner, Jon Fong.
Last weekend, Pulham shared his tips on diet, weight loss and running, with StanChart Marathon participants – at SPEX House.
These had included not only advice on nutrition, but also a few tips on sleep and lifestyle, as well as training.
According to Pulham, having a clean diet is important for weight loss. This means that you should not only eat real foods i.e. anything that does not come out of a package, but also eliminate anything that is starchy or sugary.
This is the complete opposite to what Pulham did during his time as a professional athlete, when he was not only told to eat plenty of carbs, but practically had the licence to eat almost anything he wanted. He added, “They used to tell me to eat lots of carbs and to stay away from all types of fats. I ate McDonalds three days a week, as well as tons of processed carbs, but I kept on burning it off because of the amount of training I was doing. But the problem was when I retired in 2007, I tripled in body fat.”
So after doing some trial-on-error on himself, Pulham thinks that a low carb and healthy fats diet works better for the body. He said, “And from a running point of view, you can run a lot faster and further if your regular source of fuel is fats and not carbs. This type of diet will turn on your fat-burning ability.”
For example, he added that a typical weekend warrior athlete will be able to run from Pasir Ris to Woodlands when fuelled with carbs, but should be able to run from Pasir Ris to Kuala Lumpur when utilising his or her fats for fuel.
So the type of foods that Pulham recommended you should eat as part of your regular diet, are those that are high in healthy fats and proteins. These, according to him, will unlock the body’s potential to burn fats, rather than carbs, for fuel. For example, healthy fats include nuts, avocados, olive oil and salmon and high-protein foods including meats such as chicken, lean beef and pork, as well as eggs and soya beans. Vegetables are also a great option because of the large amount of vitamins and minerals present in these.
To get the body’s natural fat metabolism rate working to optimum condition, Pulham said that one quick way to achieve this, would be to completely restrict all types of carbs altogether for a 14-day period – including fruits, which are high in sugar. So you would be eating literally nothing except vegetables and drinking tea and water. He tried this himself, and Pulham added that he was surprised by how effective this had been for him when he had first tried it out – in fact, after only 12 days of this type of extreme diet, he conducted tests on himself, and his fat metabolism had been completely kick-started and in full swing.
Today, Pulham himself eats a pretty low-carb diet comprising of bacon & eggs for breakfast, a salad for lunch and lean meat, such as chicken, for dinner. Occasionally though, he may treat himself to garlic bread or other carbs when he is eating out with friends or colleagues – as he does not believe in simply going cold turkey on any food, as this will most likely result in a rebound effect.
Said Pulham, “You can have about three to four cheat meals per week as something to look forward to, and as long as you are eating well most of the time, a few cheat meals will not do too much harm.”
Also, after a race or a training run, Pulham recommended drinking coconut water or electrolyte drinks, as these will replenish the ions lost through the exertion, but at the same time, without taking in the unnecessary refined sugars and carbs. Added Pulham, “You should try and avoid anything that has flour or grains in it too.” So items like sandwiches are not ideal. If you really must take in sugars though, having fruits are your best option because they have a lot of nutrients in them as well.
Besides nutrition, quality training is also important to unlock the body’s fat-burning potential and thus lose weight, according to Pulham. He added, “The intensities that we train at, plays a major role in what fuel we use. If you improve your body’s ability to burn fats, you can run faster without having to constantly take in energy.”
As the body needs oxygen to burn carbs, Pulham advocated running at a slower pace, which is based on an accurate calculation of your optimum heart rate zones rather than any external factors. As an easy gauge, this should be at a speed where you can easily conduct a conversation. Pulham also added that some people can be running at a physically slow pace but they are working out in a very hard heart rate zone, so this is something you want to avoid.
So the rule of thumb is that if you are running and feeling breathless, you are more likely to be working out in a hard heart rate zone – and thus burning carbs instead of fats.
Pulham also said that many people today have a suppressed fat metabolism compared to people in the olden days. He explained, “We are getting energy through carbs and not fats nowadays. That is why most people tend to store fats rather than burning it off. So set yourself up by training your body to burn fats instead.” And by doing so, your body will naturally get leaner.
One good way to train the fat metabolism is to do your training runs before eating food for the day – that is, before breakfast. But if you are burning exclusively carbs during exercise, you will tend to feel light-headed when you exercise before breakfast because the body’s glycogen stores would have been used up during the night. So that will hinder your ability to run. But the body will switch to using fats for energy and it will get better at this over time.
During an actual race though, Pulham said that it is necessary to take in some calories, but only take in what your body really needs – as you will be running at a much harder intensity during the race compared to training, so some carbs will almost definitely be burned. Thus, someone who has a poor fat metabolism will be much more heavily reliant on gels and sugary sports drinks compared to someone who has a fat metabolism that works well.
Sleep and Stress
Besides food and training, getting enough sleep is also very important to burn fats and thus lose weight, according to Pulham. He recommends about seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Said Pulham, “By sleeping, your body is healing after a hard session but if you do not get enough sleep, your body cannot heal itself fast enough. Athletes should be sleeping on the higher end of the sleep scale. For example, Roger Federer gets 12 hours of sleep a day and if he gets less than 10, he becomes grumpy. Training, contrary to what many people may believe, dehydrates you and burns through your muscles. It breaks you down. The magic only happens when you get back after training and sleep.”
Like training, high stress levels also break down the body and these can only be repaired with sleep. So if you train several times a week and also have a very stressful job with long hours, then it will break down your body much more so, compared to an athlete who gets sufficient sleep.
And if the body is not functioning as it should and is unable to repair itself, that is also when it stores more fats, according to Pulham.
So try and get between seven to 10 hours of sleep every night.
Other blog posts
- Training with Journey Fitness Co.
- Coach, a New Tool by Journey Fitness Co.
- Race Day and Preparation Tips by Pulham