In 2019 a massive team of people worked together to create the perfect conditions to break under the two hour mark for a marathon. It involved a closed track, many pace runners, sophisticated drafting techniques, and painted lines on the ground demarcating the fastest path. It was unofficial. Mostly, it took a highly trained athlete with iron will. But in the days shortly after this feat, many opportunists jumped on the story to use it as supporting evidence for their personal ideologies or businesses. According to them, none of those incredibly unique factors mattered as much as the nutrition which the runner used, nutrition, which, they argue, is the same diet they preach. “Now sign up for our diet program,” they conclude.
The first liar I saw abuse this story wrote a rather lengthy post at the time which began by inventing an argument which doesn’t exist, and then placing himself on the “right” side. What’s the right side? Elite athletes during a world-record performance use carbs. What’s the wrong side? Boogeymen are taking away your carbs. This is a purposely-contrived sham position. The author of the post was arguing against a make-believe straw man. NO ONE has ever argued for an elite athlete during record-setting performance to never consider any carbs. NO ONE. If an elite athlete (who is at trace body fat) is going to push the limits of the GLYCOlyitic energy system, literally NO ONE would even imply this should be done in the total absence of carbs or eliminated GLUCOse. Laughable.
It’s unsurprising, therefore, that at the end of the post, there was a call to action: “buy our diet program and products.” The comedy continues. More hucksters and diet-program salesman have likewise capitalized on this story.
If it wasn’t enough for the liar to invent a debate, he then, based on this dishonest distraction, extrapolated that SINGLE outlier example to mean the LAYPERSON shouldn’t ever reduce carbs. Ugh. 35,000 shares and 700k likes later, the comments section is chock full of “yeah - you tell em!”s. Tell what to whom?
Let me be clear. No one - and I mean NO ONE - has ever argued that an elite athlete with trace body fat should avoid carbs during a world-record setting performance. No one has implied it. No one has stated it. There is no controversy here.
Leaving aside the runner’s anomalous single datum anecdote for a moment, what actual scientists performing actual science have PROVEN in real, broad-scale research, data collection, and known mechanism is that sustained-aerobic performance IS fatty acid metabolism and fat-adapted-focused athletes have no average dip in tested performance: https://news.osu.edu/endurance-athletes-who-go-against-the…/
It’s established scientific fact that you must rely on beta oxidation for a large part of sustained effort after 45-90 seconds of continuous work: https://www.triathlon.org/…/…/4-Energy-Training-Module_1.pdf
This was never up for debate. What happens with an elite runner is that he or she is highly fat-adapted AND dips into glucose need AS WELL. Thus, the runner, at a running pace of more than 13 mph, could, as an EXCEPTION, utilize a highly-refined and processed carbohydrate to his advantage. The dishonest author who was sensationalizing and abusing the unofficial world record to push his sales was beyond excited to announce to us the runner’s 100g-carb-per-hour consumption. What the author failed abysmally at revealing is that 100g of carbs is only 400kcal, which an average-trained strength athlete like me burns on a recumbent bike in 16 minutes: https://www.instagram.com/p/BwlE5tqDr3L/?igshid=oi201gzrwyr2 An elite runner ON HIS FEET is going to burn that every 5-20 minutes, depending on pace and body weight. From where was the other 500-3,000 calories coming? NOT CARBS.
THIS HAS ZERO APPLICATION FOR THE LAYPERSON, by the way. And again, the author is fighting against a red herring. The average American doesn’t have a problem getting high enough carb consumption. They consume more than 40% of their total calories from refined carbs (not too dissimilar from the runner’s specifically formulated fuel) and well over 50% from carbs: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2529628
Diabetes has been on the rise since the 1950s and prevalence accelerated since the 1990s: https://www.cdc.gov/…/statistics/slides/long_term_trends.pdf We don’t have a runaway low-carb lifestyle taking over the culture. Clearly.
And the only clinically-proven way to reverse type 2 diabetes is severe food and carb restriction for major weight loss: https://www.thelancet.com/…/PIIS2213-8587(19)30076…/fulltext
Arguing FOR carbs is akin to someone arguing that not enough Americans are smoking, since, after all, some people ceased smoking, and we’ve all heard about not-smoking all the time, and "look at this athlete over here who smokes." Now, “buy my Benefits of Smoking e-book.” Where does a rational person begin a refutation with so many nonsense statements in a row?
I mean, I get it. People may be tired of hearing about restricting carbs. But the average American still isn’t listening, despite hearing it too much. So we don’t need to have a rebellious counterargument against the sensible eating recommendations which STILL no one is doing.
Elite runners have never lost weight. The average American needs to lose 80lbs of excess body fat. How does the fact that an elite racer once got 5-30% of race energy needs from refined sugar transform into an argument that the average American (who already gets 52-70% of their calories from carbs) needs to be convinced to eat more carbs? Moreover, how does this nonsensical outcry consequently lead us to think the author’s diet program he’s shlepping needs to be purchased?
Just a reminder: I don't think regular people should ever look to runners or running culture for recommendations, for examples, for advice, for inspiration. I've made it clear many times that I don't think very highly of running culture, and that it is measurably damaging to public health:
If anything, we should be looking at elite runners as a master class on how NOT to live. I'm happy for them. But what they do is not good for most other humans. Not to be too mean, but the emaciated builds of elite runners aren't exactly healthy, desirable, or admirable. IF we even wanted a role model endurance athlete for layperson recommendations, why wouldn’t we reference the winningest Ironman triathlete of all time, Dave Scott? Oh. That’s right. He only revolutionized the sport, shaved an hour off of his Ironman time over the course of a nearly-20-year competitive career, and ADVOCATES KETOGENIC NUTRITION. That’s right. Dave Scott, an actual OFFICIAL world record holder in endurance sports, recommends LOW CARB. Checkmate.
Or why don’t we reference the top ultramarathoner in the world, Courtney Dauwalter, who beat ALL OF THE MEN by a massive margin (2nd place finisher was 10 hours behind her)? Oh. That’s right. She eats whatever, no nutrition plan, relying on the massive caloric burn rate from so much activity. Checkmate. Dauwalter is an interesting case study, in fact, showing that enough movement can possibly offset very loose nutrition. More interesting is how sensationalists don't even mention her, while they froth at the mouth over a much weaker and less-accomplished athlete like David Goggins. Now, keep in mind, Dauwalter's best Moab 240 time was about 57 hours, while the infamous tough-guy, Navy Seal, David Goggins, failed to finish the Moab 240 in 2019 and clocked around 63 hours in 2020.
And on and on we could go with the checkmates. But rather, what I want to call to people’s attention is how liars can abuse any example for an ideology and for financial gain. I realize people want really easy answers, easy targets, easy dismissive posts without nuance. But biology, physiology, and nutrition science have complexities. People who run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours and people who run 240 miles in less than 3 days share almost nothing in common with Americans who may not cover this distance on foot over the course of a year or even a lifetime. I know work-from-home programmers who admittedly get less than 1/10th of a mile of walking per week. They need to eat like someone who is 100,000 times more active? I don't think so. That makes absolutely no sense. The public health message has been praising high carb this entire time that obesity prevalence more than doubled in the Western world. We have got to get serious about ongoing, long-term, chronic reductions in starches, sugars, and grains.
Also, we want to keep in mind that sometimes people don’t succeed BECAUSE of a factor. They succeed IN SPITE of a factor. It could just as easily be that the runner would’ve been fastER without the addition of 200+ grams of carbs. For one, that was an additional half pound he had to carry. Every ounce slows you down at high levels of performance. For two, that’s only 800 kilocalories. His liver, muscles and blood are carrying over 2,500 kcal worth of glycogen/glucose without having eaten the race fuel. Each gram of digested food requires a blood supply directed at digestive organs. Digestive organs are not the skeletal muscle performing the feat. There's a very good chance that the added nutrition made the runner slower. Thus, claiming race fuel as causal for an unofficial world record is specious at best.
But this is how profiteering and politicking work. Opportunists align a message with public malcontent, rather than confront people with the actual problems and solutions. It’s dishonest and disgraceful. But it resonates. People yearn to hear that all of this talk about controlling their eating is foolish anti-science. And along come the influencers and liars to capitalize on our burnout, our feelings of marginalization, our anxieties and fears. Keep an eye out. Because the ideologues are hard at work; and they’re actively abusing marathon stories for their personal gain at the cost of your attention, pocketbook, and health.