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Controversial diet: Dees turn to fat for fitness

Nat Edwards  November 24, 2014 7:07 PM

AFL 2014 Training - Melbourne 051114

Melbourne players have switched to a new low carbohydrate, high fat diet

Instead of using carbohydrates as your primary energy source, you're utilising your fat stores, which are about 10 times more significant then your carbohydrate stores
A CONTROVERSIAL high-fat diet has Melbourne players eating scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast as the Demons attempt to gain a competitive edge on their rivals.

The playing group has adopted a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet over the past six weeks with the benefits said to include weight loss, quicker recovery and increased energy levels.

The diet flies in the face of the traditional theory that carbohydrates are an essential fuel source for athletes. While some dieticians and doctors support the diet, others have criticised it.

Tim Noakes, a South African professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, is a huge advocate of the diet, with some members of the Australian cricket team adopting the regime, including all-rounder Shane Watson.

Melbourne's elite performance manager David Misson told AFL.com.au, Noakes' visit to the football club was the catalyst for the dramatic change in diet at AAMI Park.

"The diet is a form of (the) paleo (diet), but not as strict as that," he said.

"Essentially what it's about is using your fat stores as your energy replacement. So instead of using carbohydrates as your primary energy source, you're utilising your fat stores, which are about 10 times more significant then your carbohydrate stores.

"To be honest I think you're seeing these diets more and more in sport. It is still reasonably controversial from a doctor and dietician's point of view but we just feel we want to give the players as much of a competitive edge as we can.

"There's no doubt there are other players in the AFL and clubs doing a similar thing."

The LCHF diet means players must avoid foods such as bread, cereals, pasta, potatoes, rice, sugar and processed foods.

A typical breakfast is scrambled eggs, bacon and avocado, while lunch and dinner consists of a protein (chicken, fish, red meat) with the fat left on, salad and vegetables.

To help the players adjust to the new meal plan, the club is now providing breakfast three days a week, and lunch four times a week.

Players must become "fat-adapted" before they begin to reap the benefits of the diet but already the Demons are starting to feel the benefits.

"Anecdotally already players are telling us they feel better on the diet and that they're recovering quicker," Misson said.

"They haven't had a drop in energy because they've decreased their carbohydrate intake.

"One of the main reasons we asked them to do it, apart from what the scientific evidence shows, is to really put a framework and discipline around their eating.

"A lot of sports people tend to eat for comfort rather than for performance. They think the harder you train you can eat whatever you want. I really spoke to our group about becoming 24/7 professional athletes. Obviously a big part of that is what they put in their mouth every day."

As training intensity increases during the pre-season, Misson said some carbohydrates would be re-introduced, in particular leading into a match.

"It's really individual - some guys have indicated they don't miss the carbs from a taste point of view and don't seem to miss it on a physiological level either," Misson said.

"But other guys feel they do need the carbs in their diet now that training is starting to increase, so we're really conscious of that as well.

"The literature tells us as your training intensity increases, and the AFL being a really intermittent game, you actually need to bring more carbs into your diet, which we're actually going to do.

"But essentially we are going to stick with it [throughout the season proper]."