Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

Diet Coke, Sugars, Processed Foods & Carbs

The previous itch (see my earlier post) clearly wasn’t itchy enough. So now I’m seriously itchy. How many runs or gym sessions since my last post? Four? Five? Yep, ‘fraid so.

I really don’t know how many times I have to go through this cycle of experimentation. I must be coming to the end of my third reincarnation since January 2013 of wanting to return to permanent fitness from flabbiness. The result is that I surely can’t now forget what happens when I come off the wagon: the feelings and results of being in peak fitness carrying a lower weight when compared with poor fitness and carrying a heavy weight are now too stark!

I’ve now completed this cycle a third time in almost two years and I’m  now more acutely aware of the effect on my body of consuming too many carbohydrates, rubbish processed food, sugars and caffeine. Still, as my performance coach has pointed out, it can take 3 or 4 attempts to finally kick ingrained habits.

This is ridiculous! I know that if I adopt better habits I lose a lot of weight, become stronger and fitter and am able to run marathons and other long distances day-after-day in beautiful parts of the UK and the planet. And there’s still that goal of 100 marathons and ultra-marathons to reach for. But I won’t get there if I keep returning to the stereotype.

So why the reflection now? I need to get myself sorted as tomorrow, 1 July, means I’m less than 18 months away from my next multi-day ultra journey. I need to get super-fit again, but keep it that way. Carrying on as I am . . . again . . . won’t get me there. And therein lies a post for another day: why can’t I stick to a better lifestyle unless there’s a major endurance event in the diary?!

I’m no nutrition or food scientist so the following are just my experiences from the various experiments I’ve had now over the last 18 months.

Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi/Dr Pepper Zero

I must have spent most of my life from my teenage years ingesting sugars and caffeine through fizzy drinks until they gave way to simply caffeinated diet drinks because they were healthier . . . yeah, right!

I finally gave up Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi, whatever was cold and close to hand) when I started the first edition of my post-Marathon des Sables “Fitness from Flabbiness” spell in January 2013. I managed to keep off it for a full 3 months, and what a difference! It seemed counter-intuitive, but as the caffeine-to-blood ratio gradually dropped during that time I gradually felt less and less tired and gradually wide awake during the day. Yet I’d convinced myself of the ‘truth’ of the following formula:

feeling tired + caffeinated diet drinks = not feeling tired!

I can’t recall why or how but I fell into the “need a Diet Coke fix” cycle during the summer of 2013. And sure enough before long I felt I needed a daily caffeine fix. I knew this wasn’t good. So on a week’s holiday last November I stopped again and had a monumental headache for the first 3 days or so. I managed to kick the habit, largely, until the end of the Sahara Race (Jordan) in February.

And guess what? I’m back to the daily fix, and feeling tired, and feeling like I need a daily caffeinated diet fizzy drink fix. But only now, having had three long spells of off and on Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi infusions, can I see some common threads:

– I feel more awake after a short while when I’m on a caffeine-free spell (no surprises there);

– starting on the diet caffeine drinks always seems to coincide with the need for crap food and sugars: does the sugar-replacement aspartame have anything to do with this? does one need cause the other?

Infrequent use only!

Maybe at the end of a race only!

Sugars and processed foods

Unfortunately one usually inevitably involves the other . . .

The bad boy, the focus of numerous programmes and media exposure of late with the World Health Organisation now suggesting a cap of 5% (down from 10%) of one’s daily calorific needs coming from sugar. That’s 25 grammes per day in total: take a look at the sugar grammes on that packet of yummy stuff you’ve just eaten!

It’s been a perennial issue in my life: consuming too much of it. When I ditched this along with other processed foods in January 2013 at the start of Rory Coleman’s “Banned Substances” food list the results over 12 weeks were incredible. And a lot less consumption of it together with the training in the run up to the Sahara Race (Jordan) saw me probably at my fittest ever.

So I have made greater attempts to understand this issue more. Without a doubt, in my experience, sugar is addictive: consuming it in any form doesn’t give satiation and so leads to yet more consumption. John Yudkin’s Pure, White and Deadly is an easy read on his prophetic (bearing in mind this was first written in 1972) views of the dangers and consequences of too much sugar and Professor Robert Lustig’s YouTube hit on the subject was also an eye-opener for me. But I keep forgetting to remind myself of these obvious revelations and so sugar has made a daily appearance for some months . . . again.

And so it’s no surprise that I’ve put on weight and feel sluggish with the cycle of peaks and troughs experienced from a regular and completely unnecessary sugar intake.

When the staff at what must be one of the country’s busiest Starbucks at one of the country’s busiest train stations can remember my morning order (mediumskinnyhazelnuthotchocolatenocream) and almost my name before I even say “Hello” . . . it must be time to stop!

Races or long training runs only!

Races or long training runs only!


Something else I’ve become convinced of over my three experiments: I really don’t need to eat anywhere near as much carbohydrate whether in full training or not. The modern day “norm” of cereals or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pasta or potatoes or whatever for dinner . . . is way too much. There’s an awful lot of training needed in one day to get rid of that amount of carbohydrate consumption; hence, the inevitable slowly-but-surely weight gain.

Low- not no-carbs

Low- not no-carbs

Recently there’s been too much carb in me without the exercise to justify even a fraction of it but having had the spells last year of eating very little carbs (pretty much only for breakfast) I can now appreciate and feel more aware of that “I’ve eaten a brick” sensation when I do indulge.

If I know I don’t need it, why have I eaten so much of it? Again. There’s definitely something in the diet caffeinated drinks – sugars – processed foods – carbs linkage that, certainly in my case, causes the desire for more. Getting back into the training and racing lifestyle with a more sensible approach to food has to be the way to go for the long-term if I want to keep running. I remember just how good it all felt before and I miss it.

At an embarrassing 15 stone, 1.5 pounds this morning (102 kilos), bring on July 1st, the training lifestyle and an autumn marathon or two!



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