Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Who is Tim Noakes?

In 1985 Tim Noakes published the Lore of Running which became the de facto bible of running for many years - even today it's considered one of the most scientific approaches to running. Noakes is a respected doctor who has studied endurance sports at the most basic level, applying scientific rigor in a field that often slips into pseudoscience. He has also trained for and run dozens of marathons himself, so he has practiced what he preaches.

You may not have heard of Noakes and his work unless you spend any time in the endurance community. He's basically the inventor of "carb loading".  His book has tables on the best way to pack your muscles full of glycogen to prepare for a race. Carb loading is so ingrained in the culture, who could ever question it? That's just what you do.

Well, Noakes questioned it. He realized he was becoming diabetic after years of training for and running marathons. When he looked into it, he realized that the carb loading - and really the whole carb feeding that endurance athletes do - was detrimental to his long term health. He's done a 180 and has publicly said that he was wrong in his influential book.

Think of all of the threads in this story. I could write entire posts about each of these (and I probably will some time):

1 - It's unheard of in our society for a person, or better yet, an institution, to ever reverse their opinions. Noakes thought he had it right, he had all kinds of research to show how carb loading improved performance. But when he got different long-term results, he was quick to update his thinking, even though it ran contrary to what he orginally reported. When people and institutions get hold of an idea, no matter what contrary evidence there is, they tend to cling to the original idea.They squash dissenting opinions or do more and more research to show why they are still right. This is harder to do in the information age. Tom Naughton says that the wisdom of crowds will always win - I'm hopeful that's true.

2 - It's very easy to "over science-ify" things. Science is all about reducing and controlling variables so that you can be sure which inputs lead to which outputs. When studying the fundamental forces of nature, that's a good thing, you want to learn from first principles. But when studying a complex system like a human body, you can't really isolate variables. When reading a nutrition or exercise science article, the conditions are always so controlled that they never really can be translated into the real world. Carb loading may produce the best results when looking at the relationship between carb feeding and race performance, but all the other variables, like the long-term health and well being of the racers, aren't taken into account.

3 - The combination of 1 and 2 have resulted in a world where people hang their hat on "science" but don't ever listen to what the science tells them. Noakes is currently on trial in his home country of South Africa because he, as a doctor, is recommending a high-fat, low-carb diet to his patients. His recommendations are going against the standard of care and he's not allowed to give that advice. The institutions that originally got their science from researchers like Noakes won't change their advice when the same people learn more. This is an incredibly troubling idea to me. We need to be able to question and experiment and learn, but when we have a centrally controlled standard that's loath to learn more, we're all doomed.


snatch push press 5x3
2 double KB C&J between sets


for a sense of urgency
row 1000m
50 heavy swings
25 tall box jumps
12 pull-ups

Endurance Option

snatch push press 5x3
2 double KB C&J between sets


constantly moving below AeroMAX
row 1000m
50 swings
25 step-ups
12 pull-ups

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