Today’s question is about combining the Slow Carb Diet (from The 4-Hour Body) with endurance cycling

Coach, I’m starting the 4 Hour Body on Monday and have a questions. I am an endurance bicyclist, without the cyclist body. I normally do a GU shot about 90 minutes into my rides and either GU or Chomps every hour after that. Do you have any alternative to these that would still stay consistant with the 4 Hour Body Diet?

Thank you for your time!
4 Hour Rider

Hi Rider,

That’s a great question. It’s something I’ve pondered over the years. These days there are quite a few people who will tell you a low-carb diet is ideal for everyone, including endurance athletes.

I’ll just cut to the chase though – for the past 3-4 years, I’ve tried a variety of ways to combine different low-carb diets with an endurance sports lifestyle, and it never worked. Supposedly it works for some people, but for me, it doesn’t.

For example, check out my results on the Primal fat loss diet. I couldn’t do any endurance training while on the “fat loss” diet, and even on the “maintenance” level, endurance training was pretty painful.

I’m planning to write more detailed articles on this, but my main recommendation is to do the Slow Carb diet off the bike, and eat like a cyclist when on the bike (i.e. just keep doing what you’re doing with the gels). I’m pretty sure there’s even a small mention in the book about combining the diet with endurance sports and it allows sugary carbs during and immediately after exercise. (Not 100% sure what page it was on though.)

That way you’re getting the weight loss benefits of going “slow carb” without losing the quick-acting sugars you’ll probably need to get you through your rides.

As for Slow Carb alternatives to the energy gels, the only thing I can think of would be roasted chick peas (garbanzo beans). Those provide carbs and are somewhat convenient since they’re dry. I love those as snacks, although I’ve never carried them during a ride. (Try it out and comment below!)

Good luck!

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    2005 Loren Cordain, PhD and Joe Friel, MS

  2. @Jen

    Thanks for the comment.

    I haven’t bothered to read that whole book, but my understanding is that it is basically “eat a Paleo diet normally, but have your sugar and starchy carbs during and post-workout.”

    So it’s just a more detailed version of what I’m recommending here. But the book would probably be a good read for our “4 Hour Rider” here if he needs more details.

  3. I really enjoyed Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance by Matt Fitzgerald. It is targeted for endurance athletes and is easy to follow.

    BTW – In the 4-hour body Ferriss suggests not doing endurance exercises since it just increases your appetite. So doesn’t seem compatible at all with endurance athletes.

  4. @Bryant

    Racing Weight is on my reading list. Sounds like a good book!

    And yes, endurance exercise increases your appetite, so it’s not good if you’re trying to lose weight to get lean and muscular. The Slow Carb diet certainly isn’t perfect for an endurance athlete. Philosophy-wise, as you pointed out, the two just don’t mesh.

    But that doesn’t mean endurance sports and the Slow Carb diet are not compatible at all. There’s no law against eating beans, lentils, and vegetables then going for a bike ride 🙂

    There will just be a point at which exercise volume becomes too much to handle without a little adaptation of the diet plan.

    But for now, I’m thinking 4 Hour Rider should probably focus more on getting the cyclist’s body he’s looking for, rather than worry about achieving peak cycling fitness. The Slow Carb diet is one way to do that quickly.

  5. I should also point out that the Slow Carb diet doesn’t need to be a long-term affair. It’s better for quick results. Once 4 Hour Rider here loses some weight, I would suggest he switches to a diet with more variety, better suited for endurance athletes. (Like Precision Nutrition.)

  6. I have been on the 4Hour diet since march and I am racing Cat4 without any problems. If you are riding less than 1½ hours, then you don’t need anything whilst you are riding, otherwise use gels or whatever as usual. If you aren’t having a meal immediately after the ride, then get some carbs and protein as usual but don’t over do it.
    You can get plenty of carbs for training by eating beans and lentils and I don’t find that I am missing anything when training other than the weight I have lost 🙂

  7. @William

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  8. What about the pre ride breakfast?

    • @Sam

      Often a pre-ride breakfast will easily fit into slow carb or low carb. Turkey bacon and eggs, for example.

      Even better might be to skip the pre-ride meal entirely and just have some coffee. Then you can begin fueling during the ride.

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