Episode #50: Mark Interviews Dr. Timothy Noakes


Description: In this episode, Mark Sisson has a discussion with Dr. Timothy Noakes of South Africa, who is an author and well-known expert in exercise physiology and human performance. As a physician, former longtime marathon runner, and co-founder of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Dr. Noakes has spearheaded efforts to advocate a low carb/high fat diet despite opposition in the mainstream medical community.

(02:30) Dr. Noakes’ first book, The Lore of Running, was first published in 1986 and is considered the “Bible” for endurance athletes. Since his early days, Dr. Noakes has subsequently had an about-face on his belief in the low fat/high carb diet.

(04:50) Mark discusses how Dr. Noakes shifted into the primal/paleo/ancestral lifestyle despite the criticism he received from colleagues in the medical community.

(08:10) Mark and Tim talk about their common urge to buck up against conventional wisdom. They both continue to research and question popular scientific knowledge.

(09:55) Dr. Noakes has gone from supporting the low fat/high carb diet (based on the best scientific knowledge available at the time he supported it) to supporting the primal/paleo/ ancestral diet. This change came about from his own personal realization that, even though he was a marathoner, his performance was weakening while he gained weight as he approached his 50s. As a result, he wrote The Real Meal Revolution, which emerged from his own research and personal experience.

(16:45) Mark asks Dr. Noakes what it is like to be demonized by the medical community. Noakes says that he was the “poster boy” for high carbohydrate healthy eating. But he realized something was seriously wrong when, although he never smoked or drank, he got type 2 diabetes.

(19:00) He stopped eating carbs, got well and realized how wrong he had been. No one has to get type 2 diabetes and you can reverse it, says Noakes.

(20:00) It was a common belief that the secret to longevity and good health was to run marathons or engage in other endurance activities. The problem was, however, that the more you exhaust your body through these activities on a high carb diet, the more compelled you are to eat carbs, which has a negative effect on your health.

(24:38) In his book, Challenging Beliefs: Memories of a Career, Noakes talks about under-hydration and over-hydration. He recommends you “drink to your thirst.” He has also written Waterlogged, where he outlines practices that endurance athletes should follow, variables they should consider, and guidelines they should use to maintain proper fluid balance. He published an article in the Journal of Applied Physiology about an over-hydration incident in a race where a woman almost died because of it. He comments how the drink industry’s power influences scientific research.

(30:00) Dr. Noakes gives hydration recommendations for listeners, whether or not they are training. Again, you drink to thirst just like animals. We are the only creatures who drink too much. In fact, you probably have an extra two liters of fluid in your body.

(32:09) Mark and Tim talk about the Central Governor Theory. They discuss peripheral glycogen availability’s role in determining when a runner “hits the wall.” Noakes says muscles never deplete of glycogen. Noakes’ Ph.D. thesis was on heart metabolism.

(35:17) Mark wonders what determines which person out of a pack of well-trained and ready athletes at a starting line will win a race. Mark thinks it is the person who is willing and able to override the Central Governor and dig deep. Mark mentions the examples of Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar. Tim and Mark talk about whether outside training, such as meditation and visualization, might help the athletes or if inherent ability trumps everything.

(43:00) They talk about how Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile gave permission to others to follow suit. If you feel you are going to win, you feel less discomfort. But if you feel you are going to lose, your discomfort goes up and you slow down. This is an example of how your mind can help control your perception of discomfort to your advantage.

(43:15) Mark asks Dr. Noakes what his own personal training and diet life look like now. Dr. Noakes is still running 30-40 K a week and plans to run a half marathon in April. He eats about 25 grams of carbs and 70-80% fat. He has noticed his appetite waning since he started eating fats. He eats just one and a half meals a day. The key is carbohydrate restriction.

(45:25) Mark refers to the many times he has talked about the same dietary recommendations as Noakes. One of the great things about a low-carb eating strategy is that your body learns to access stored body fat so you can go long periods of time without eating. Your body can become more efficient at using calories.

(49:03) Many of today’s endurance athletes have learned to mix the two types of diets. Many still have two or three days a week where they practice high intensity training on a high carbohydrate diet to supply their bodies with a necessary burst of power. But for events that are steady, they do fine with carbohydrate constriction and higher fat intake. Most of us will do better by cutting the carbs.

(51:00) Mark talks about the need to use ketosis as a tool and how to manage glycogen stores.

(57:01) Timothy Noakes says: “The Real Meal Revolution, by Little Brown, is a new book that is coming out in February. I also have a book out called Challenging Beliefs, which is a book that really describes who I am. What I really want to do is show that you can take people with type 2 diabetes being treated with medication and reverse the disease.”

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2 thoughts on “Episode #50: Mark Interviews Dr. Timothy Noakes

  1. Suzie Snyder

    I’m very interested in mixing the two diets and becoming efficient at using fat and carbohydrate as fuel during exercise, as was talked about at the end of this podcast. I’m a professional Xterra (off-road) triathlete, which has a higher demand for intensity changes and power than traditional triathlon. Event duration is usually 2.5-3 hours (for me as a female) and I’m wondering if you have a protocol, guidelines or methods for an athlete like myself trying to make this change.? Thanks!

  2. carolyn

    loved listening to Dr Noakes – such afunny guy!
    Although I am still really trying to reconcile this advice with the high carb doctors. I really wish you diet experts would please just get your 23andme profiles done and stick them up on the website so we can match ourselves to what works for whom. It’s not expensive. PLEEEEESE?


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