Starting around December 6, Jenny Davis, a full-time lawyer turned ultra-endurance athlete, will attempt a 715-mile solo, unsupported and unassisted ski trek from Antarctica to the South Pole. For this Arctic adventurer, extreme challenges and pushing the limits are what drive her, and if she completes this challenge in less than 38 days, 23 hours and 5 minutes, she’ll break the current Guinness World Record.
Atkins is proud to support Jenny on this expedition. She is unique in that she follows a low carb diet while competing in ultra-endurance events, and here she shares how a low carb diet and Atkins have been essential in fueling her extraordinary efforts:
Endurance athletes typically rely on high carb diets. In “The Best Foods for Athletes”, just published in The New York Times, sports dietitian and professor Louise Burke supports the high carb concept, yet she also agrees that for professional athletes, diet composition and timing is dependent on the athlete and event, and a low carb diet may improve performance for some.
What made you turn to a low carb diet?
I remember reading the Lore of Running by Tim Noakes when I first got into long-distance running, and he was the original proponent of carbohydrate loading before marathons. I was then fascinated to find out he is now a leading proponent of a low carb diet. It is rare for a renowned scientist to completely change their position, so I became increasingly interested in low carb diets for general health and in exercise. For multi-day ultra running and expeditions, a low carb, high fat diet offers the potential for more consistent energy release and lighter food. The protein in the Atkins nutritional plan definitely helps with my muscular recovery and being well adapted for fat burning during exercise means I’m able to sustain my exercise without glucose gels or energy drinks.
How long did it take you to adjust to a low carb diet?
After six weeks, I was seeing benefits to my training and general health. I made the switch about three years ago, and I haven’t looked back!
What was your diet like before you switched to low carb?
I had a standard Western diet. I would generally choose the low fat version of food, and I would increase my carbohydrate intake according to training and racing. I found that I thought about food more and had significantly more bloating and abdominal than I do now on Atkins. With Atkins, I can run further without refueling and my body composition has improved.
You are literally pulling a 170-pound sled with everything you need for your entire expedition, including your food. What does a typical day of eating look like?
I am hoping that being fat adapted as a low carb athlete will be a significant benefit. Fat is the most calorie dense food per gram, which is particularly important when you have to drag all your food behind you. The early Polar explorers ate pemmican, a high fat snack, and their lunch of choice and the indigenous Arctic populations is a very high fat, meat-based diet, so history supports a low carb diet for polar travel. For me, breakfast is a nut-based granola with high-fat powdered milk and coffee, obviously. Lunch is on the go, as stopping just makes you so cold, so I will be snacking on my favorite Atkins bars and treats (Chocolate Peanut Butter and Peanut Butter Cups), cheese, nuts and a high-fat protein shake. Dinner is a dehydrated meal; Pad Thai is surprisingly tasty!
How have you been preparing nutritionally prior to your expedition?
Ironically I have actually been eating more carbohydrates. The general advice for South Pole expeditions is to gain 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) before you start because people lose 15 kilograms or so (about 33 pounds) on the ice. High carb snacks are an easy way to put on weight during my high-intensity training.
What has your training been like?
I come from an ultra running background, so I am confident in my ability to exercise 10 to 12 hours at a time on consecutive days. In preparation for this, I focused more on developing the strength to pull the sled, so lots of squats and tire flipping, combined with tire dragging around my local parks.
How do you mentally prepare for a journey like this?
I trust in my ability, my preparation and the support network around me. After the stress of preparations, I’m expecting to enjoy the solitude and single-minded focus once I have found my rhythm. I have a satellite phone and satellite data connect, so I will be able to send and receive messages from friends and family every evening, which will certainly help.
Once you complete this amazing journey, what meal or foods will you reward yourself with?
I’m fed up with overeating! I’m looking forward to going back to my usual diet, lots of steak and broccoli! You can’t beat a well-aged rib eye steak.
You can follow Jenny’s progress live on her web site, where her position will be updated hourly.