Can a diet from the 1800’s be the answer to an ultra runners prayers?

The one reason why a HFLC diet will never work for me.

What William Banting did in the late 1800’s was basically describe a High Fat , Low Carb (HFLC) diet.   My friend Jon had taken on this diet and lost a considerable amount of weight and also improved his running, breaking sub3 for the first time in years in the recent Bunbury marathon. Truth be told I think a large portion of Jon’s weight loss was his ability to walk past the fridge in the evenings rather than scavenge like a starving hyena , which is the normal runners actions late in the evening, searching for one final sugar hit.  The only fly in the ointment is the guru of all things running and he who must be obeyed, Matt Fitzgerald, is not a HFLC fan. I have attached an article written by Erin Beresini quoting Fitzgerald and his views.

I think the best thing is to research the subject yourself and decide whether a HFLC diet is for you. To really gain the full benefit of this diet you’d also need to train aerobically (a posh word for slow!) for a few months to teach your body to burn fat. I personally reckon you’d have no choice but to train aerobically while starting this diet as you’d be without a runners best friend, Mr. Carbohydrates and his side kick sugar.

I’m curious myself to try out the HFLC diet but it would mean me forgoing my Yelo muffin  ( ) and coffee and personally I’m not ready to give these up, even if I can improve my performance and even general health. We’re on this planet only once and we give up so much for our running I refuse to lose one of the few pleasure in my life. Myself I’m a believer in putting in massive weekly distance , without worrying too much about pace, eating as healthy as possible with the odd ‘treat’ and enjoying my running without a regimented training programs that must be adhered to. I run because I love running and I eat because I also love eating, restricting myself with a ‘diet’ (because that it basically what you are doing) does not sit well with me. It’s hard enough finding enough time in the day to run while juggling family, work, puppies, Elliptigo time sleep and other ‘stuff’; adding in food as well just becomes too hard. !

Do I believe a HFLC diet will work and do what it says, yep I do; will I change, no. Sorry people but this runner is sticking with the Status Quo and to quote my Dietitian professional running friend David Bryant when I questioned him on this subject he responded ‘Just eat good food’.  ( I took ‘good food’ to mean pancakes, muffins (from Yelo) etc..?)

Currently in my running group there is a split on the HFLC diet. Jon has embraced the diet and shut the fridge door while Mark C. has gone down the Matt Fitzgerald path and gorged on carbohydrates and sugar. Both are currently enjoying success with their chosen paths but I suspect Mark C. is enjoying himself a lot more. We’ll see this Sunday when Mark will chow down on waffles while Jon will lose himself in his scramble eggs, I know which one I’ll be ordering.


So digest (excuse the pun) the two articles below and then scurry off and research away, as with all things in the 21st Century it’s all on Google…..


William Banting was a British undertaker who was very obese and desperately wanted to lose weight. In the year 1862 he paid a visit to his doctor, William Harvey, who proposed a radical eating plan that was high in fat but included very few carbohydrates. By following this eating plan Banting experienced such remarkable weight loss that he wrote an open letter to the public, the “Letter on Corpulence”, which became widely distributed. As more people started following this eating plan to lose weight, the term “banting” or to “bant” became popularized.

Banting merely discovered what human beings were designed to eat: what early humans ate 200,000 years ago. Respected biologists, geneticists, paleoanthropologists and theorists believe that human genes have hardly changed since human beings began their journey on earth. If you could put the entire human history into one day, we have only been eating cereals and grains for five minutes and sugar for five seconds, a very short amount of time in our existence. After the success experienced by William Banting on this low-carb, high-fat eating plan, the “banting” diet became the standard treatment for weight loss in all major European and North American medical schools. But in 1959 it was excluded from all the major medical and nutritional textbooks.

In 1977 the US government published the Dietary Goals for the United States, a set of guidelines that advocated a diet high in carbs and low in fat, exactly the opposite of the diet we have been following for much of our existence. It was decreed that we should eat six to eleven portions of grains per day and that sugar was absolutely fine to add to everything. This diet was subsequently adopted across most of the Western world and a plethora of low fat-food products hit the shelves. This has had a disastrous effect on our health. Since the early 1980’s the incidence of obesity and diabetes has risen rapidly. Can we really call this a coincidence?

There is a common misconception that eating fat, especially saturated fat, is bad for you and that it is a primary cause of high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. This is simply not true and was based on a flawed study by Ancel Keys in 1953. The truth is that a diet high in carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates and sugar are the cause of obesity, diabetes as well as other chronic illnesses. Vegetable (seed) oils and their derivatives such as margarine are also a contributing factor to heart disease, although manufacturers tell us the exact opposite.

This might come as a surprise, but of the three macronutrients in our diet (protein, fat and carbohydrates), only carbohydrates are non-essential for human life. We cannot function properly for more than a few days without eating fat; without an adequate protein intake we develop protein-calorie malnutrition within a few months. But avoiding carbohydrate has no short- or long-term effects on humans, other than the (usually beneficial) effect of weight loss, especially in those who are the most overweight. While we need a constant supply of glucose, it can be produced by the liver from fat and protein and doesn’t need to be ingested as carbohydrate in our diets.

The usual refrain of anyone looking at banting for the first time is “but what about my cholesterol?” There is much evidence to support the fact that cholesterol is not the culprit in heart disease. A bit like a policeman being at the scene of the crime being blamed for the crime – cholesterol will only adhere to a ‘leaking’ artery wall which is damaged by inflammation – to protect you. By living on carbs and sugar those arteries remain inflamed. Sugar is the most inflammatory thing you can put into your mouth, and will continue to rob you of perfect health. Grains are turned into sugar by the body. So a high carbohydrate diet will always foster inflammation in the body, not only in the arteries but the brain, liver, digestive tract and joints leading to many of the chronic diseases we see today which are supposedly ‘incurable’. Many people report relief from all the above in a relatively short time after adopting the Banting lifestyle.


Below is the article quoting Matt Fitzgerald, who is the running guru. Matt is not a fan of the HFLC diet but Tim Noakes is a big advocate , and as we all now Tim Noakes was the original running guru. Maffetone is also a big fan of the HFLC diet and training at an aerobic pace restricting your pace by heart rate. ( )


Before Dr. Robert Atkins launched his low-carb diet in 1972, there was Banting, the fat British undertaker who designed coffins for England’s elite in the 1800s. According to Men’s Health, the guy needed to drop a few kilos, so his doc put him on a high-fat-low-carb (HFLC) diet and, presto change-o, he lived to 82 and was buried in a skinny man’s coffin.

It may seem silly to talk about Banting now, but he’s back from the dead, courtesy of a controversial sports scientist who has been vehemently championing the Brit’s diet for the past few years. Professor Tim Noakes, from the Sports Science Institute of South Africa at the University of Cape Town, even published a book of Banting recipes that sold out not long after hitting shelves earlier this year. There’s just one problem with the diet: It’ll make you slower.

Matt Fitzgerald, author of the new book Diet Cults, has some sobering words for athletes who try to train on fat. “Decades of research indicate that high-carb diets are optimal for endurance and that ingesting carbohydrates during endurance exercise enhances endurance,” Fitzgerald says.

Sports nutrition scientist and European Journal of Sport Science editor in chief Asker Jeukendrup, for example, recently published a paper outlining carb needs during exercise to enhance endurance, suggesting athletes take in small amounts of carbs during training sessions lasting an hour, 60 grams of carbs per hour for exercise lasting two to three hours, and 90 grams per hour for exercise lasting longer than that—regardless of body weight or training status.

Noakes’ diet, on the other hand, advocates eating as little as 25 to 50 grams of carbs per day. While upping your healthy fat intake to around 40 percent of your total daily calories is fine, Noakes promotes a diet that’s 80 percent fat and only 10 percent carbs. Most endurance athletes, Fitzgerald says, should not be cutting carbs.

It’s not just science that shows carbs make athletes better. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence as well. Eating carbs “is almost a universal practice among the world’s best endurance athletes,” Fitzgerald says. “The typical Kenyan diet is 78 percent carbs, and they destroy the rest of the world in distance running.”

Clearly, there’s a lot going on behind Kenyan running prowess, but the carbs can’t be discounted. “If you care about your performance as an endurance athlete, the safe way to go is a high-carb diet,” Fitzgerald says. “If you go on the high-fat bandwagon, it’s a crapshoot.”

Proponents of HFLC claim the Banting diet is the key to weight loss and improved health and encourages the body to burn fat for fuel. But studies comparing HFLC to nonrestrictive diets found that, over time, people lost no more weight “banting” than they did otherwise. Celeste Naude, a researcher from the Center for Evidence-Based Health Care at Stellenbosch University, told the Mail and Guardian that “the dietary pattern and food choices promoted with a low-carbohydrate/high-fat diet are not well aligned with healthy dietary patterns and food choices known to, along with a healthy lifestyle, reduce the risk of diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancers.”

Why the fervor? Fitzgerald says the desire to follow a restrictive diet is fulfilling mental, rather than physical, needs. He calls the phenomenon “sour grapes syndrome,” after Aesop’s fable about the fox who couldn’t reach some hanging grapes. Rather than admit he couldn’t jump high enough to get them, the fox decided they must be sour anyway. As Fitzgerald writes on his website, the victims of sour grapes syndrome:

…are endurance athletes who cannot cope psychologically with being slower than they would like to be and who resolve this cognitive dissonance by replacing the goal of doing their sport well with that of doing it “right.” The syndrome is being spread by various movements that promote alternative methods that are contrary to those practiced by the most successful athlete … By latching onto [HFLC], athletes can claim a kind of victory over superior competitors.

At some point, Fitzgerald writes, when a movement grows large enough, “it begins to win converts among athletes who are not, in fact, wracked with jealousy of faster athletes but who simply don’t know any better.” To enlighten those athletes, he cites a study recently published in the journal Nutrients in which researchers compared HFLC athletes with those eating a balanced diet. While HFLC made athletes leaner, it also caused them to lose power due to “impairment of the muscles’ ability to burn carbs.”

The athletes had, essentially, trained their bodies to use fat for fuel and decrease reliance on carbs. The result, Fitzgerald writes, is a reduced tolerance for high-intensity training and impaired “performance in all races except perhaps ultra-endurance events such as 100 km trail runs.” If you want to go fast, your body needs carbs for fuel. Training on a Banting diet makes your body less efficient at doing so, ultimately hobbling most athletes on race day.

The next time you’re thinking about cutting carbs, check your motives. If you’re doing it to look lean or run 62 miles or more at once, HFLC may work for you. But if you want to perform optimally at nearly any other endeavor, don’t ditch your bagels.

Jon, pre Bunting Diet while I was mixing both diets, pancakes and bacon. When it comes to Diets I swing both way !



  1. Phil Mosley | 7th Jul 17

    Good post BK. The Paleo-type diet has certainly helped turn Jon into a lean, mean running machine. It’s good that it encourages you to eat healthy, unprocessed foods. I tried it for 12 weeks a few years back, but it didn’t really work for me. I got to the point where I couldn’t even face looking at a sweet potato.

    It’s interesting that in the book “Running With The Kenyans” by Adharanand Finn, the author observes that the world’s best runners barely eat any protein at all. They have meat every few weeks for a special occasion, but mostly they consume Ugali (maizemeal porridge), with vegetables and beans. In other words, they eat a mainly carbohydrate based diet. It doesn’t seem to slow them down.

    It makes me think that the most important thing is to avoid eating too many sugary and processed foods, rather than worrying about how much carbohydrate, fat and protein we eat. Hence I’m sticking to my carbs, yum yum. I just need to stop buying chocolate.

    • | 8th Jul 17

      You’re right Phil, the Kenyans live on carbs but I wonder if one of them tried a HFLC diet what the result would be. I’m sure one of them probably has as the competition is so strong if you can gain an edge you’d take it. We can discuss this in more detail over a coffee, with sugar, and a Yelo muffin one Thursday morning….soon !

  2. Jonathon trailblazer | 7th Jul 17

    I’ve always been on a diet. A seefood diet. The see food and eat it diet. I am vegetarian and don’t drink alcohol, but if there is chocolate or biscuits in our house it gets eaten that day. I’ve tried to make my chocolate eating more healthy by eating dark chocolate (70% cocoa) , but the problem is noone else in my family likes dark chocolate, so they keep buying milk chocolate. I get plenty of vegetables, lots of potato chips…And a hint of lemon juice or orange juice in my soft drinks which have some energy from the sugar in them. So there thats vegetables and fruits taken care of. My pasta, cheese and bread intake is high, so lots of Carbs energy and a bit of protein. Got to fuel the fire… It worked for Ryan Bayley who could have had a HJ’s and KFC sponsorship, and we all know McDonalds sponsors Little Athletics and Hungry Jacks sponsored the West Coast Eagles. Problem is my spare tyre keeps getting bigger so more slow jogging Maffetone style should get my body ready to use fats as energy, and I have plenty of stored fats. Somehow its not working for me, perhaps I’m not eating enough fats, so i need to increase my fats intake somehow? My body will switch to fats and I will start to Pale oway and then my running times will get faster and my body get healthier just like in the book I started reading… I can’t afford all the exotic stuff at the moment though so I’ll just have to buy about 10 of those chocolates on special for 85cents every day for a while. A Mars a day helps you work rest and play… Maybe if I eat more Mars bars I’ll actually get fulltime work…I see thats been my problem for years, Epiphany moment I need to eat more Mars bars every day ifI want to get a fulltime job and have the money to improve my weight… A Mars a day…

    • | 8th Jul 17

      C’mon Jon, we’ve discussed this before, step away from the fridge buddy !!

  3. amanda -runtothefinish | 9th Jul 17

    Agreed, I’ve read a ton and I totally see why some people feel like it’s the best choice…but I just don’t want to live without my carbs!! Maybe if I was an elite, but I’m just enjoying what I do

    • | 10th Jul 17

      G’day Amanda. I’m in the same boat. I totally believe the HFLC diet will make me a better runner but I give up so much in pursuit of personal goals I need something to make me smile and the Yelo muffin and coffee combo does that, big time. Thanks for the comment. Kevin.

  4. JON | 10th Jul 17

    Good laugh TB ! (your not serious i hope ?)

    You’ve given away my secrets BK 🙂 If you want to race fast, look in a mirror & are you your leanest/fighting weight ? I challenge anyone not to run faster without carrying a 5kg bag of potatoes – ie your excess baggage !

    Whilst i admit the ‘diet’ may not be for everyone, first & foremost, get to your ‘ideal’ running weight. This doesn’t mean don’t eat. Eat, and eat plenty, but the ‘right’ food groups ! Avoid processed & refined foods at all costs. If you open up a packet its not food !!! If it doesn’t resemble food its not food !! The only place for chocolate is ‘after’ a race as a reward 😉

    I lost 10% weight in 10 weeks (look out for the next bestseller), and never felt ‘lighter’ which has translated returning to PB ballpark some 6 years ago !! Watch this space…

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