The Charles Poliquin carb test, Dave Brailsford, and what you really want from training

Chances are you eat too many carbs. I know I do. The late great Charles Poliquin had a test for males that want to be healthy; if you are above 10% body fat or can’t see each of your abs, you should be on a low carb diet. Most of the time, eating meat and vegetables, and using clean carbs to fuel and recover from intense training sessions. Once you are lean, you can then add more carbs, such as fruits.

Dave Brailsford, the mastermind behind the British Cycling and Team Sky’s takeover of cycling, did a recent interview talking about his current training. His recent riding focuses on maintaining muscle mass and strength and managing fat levels. He does this by eating low carb and high protein, restricting eating to between 11 am and 8 pm, and low intensity, high torque rides. The low-intensity rides and low carb intake aims to burn fat rather than glycogen for fuel. The low carb diet involves cutting out grains, bread, pasta, rice, and sugar.

At Team Sky and now Ineos, riders have adopted a carb cycling approach, eating low carb on low-intensity days and using carbs selectively pre and post high-intensity rides. The low carb days includes riding on coffee and protein or fully fasted for the first 1.5 to 2 hours of low to moderate intensity. Protein intake is kept at around the same level on both low and high carb days. Dr. Morton, the teams, published details of the approach in a research paper in which he sets the intensity level needing carbs as 85% of v02max.

A year ago, I bought some scales that measure weight, calculates BMI, and estimates your body fat based on a scan. I was 88kg and far above my health BMI of 25. My first target was to get below 83kg to be in the healthy BMI range. The next step was to deadlift 1.5x bodyweight and do ten strict pull-ups taken from the book Fat loss happens on Mondays. My focus then moved to become a faster distance runner.

With my current challenge of getting to a 4 Watts per kilo FTP in mind and reading the Dave Brailsford article has led me to think about what I want from my training. The easiest route would be to focus on losing weight rather than increasing power. If I lived in the mountains or were a competitive cyclist, this would make sense. If I am honest though, I want to be strong, powerful, and look good naked, so focusing on power makes more sense. 

Body composition goals

  • If you want a blunt starting point, aim to get your BMI into the healthy range.
  • If you can measure body fat, a better approach is to get under 13%.
  • If you don’t care about these measures, aim for 1.5x deadlift and ten strict pull-ups. The deadlifts will require you to be strong, and you will need to be lean for the pull-ups.