This Top Tip Tuesday we bring you an excerpt from What The Fat? Sports Performance: Leaner, Fitter, Faster on Low Carb Healthy Fat profiling elite athlete and Olympic gold and silver medalist Jo Aleh.

Name: Jo AlehJo Aleh headshot

Age: 29y

Sport: Sailing: 470

Height: 171cm

Weight: 58kg

Career highlights:  

  • Goldmedal in London Olympic Games
  • Ranked 1 in world for 2 years
  • 1st– 470 World Championship, La Rochelle, France – July 2013
  • 2nd– 470 European Championship, Formia, ITA – July 2013
  • 1st– Delta Lloyd Regatta, Medemblik, NED – May 2013
  • 1st– Garda and Trentino Olympic Week, Riva del Garda, ITA – May 2013
  • 1st– Oceanbridge Sail Auckland Regatta, Auckland, NZL – Feb 2013
  • 2nd– 220km paddle board race

Jo Aleh’s sailing career began from the age of 11 years, where she started out on the Optimist boat and then moved up the ranks to Laser and now the 470 boat with her boat partner, Polly Powrie. Jo has had a long history as an elite sailor, and has done extremely well. In fact she and Polly have won every world cup regatta and their worst placing has only ever been 3rd. Now that’s impressive!

A long sailing history has also meant that Jo is no stranger to dieting. “I’ve endured many years of eating high carb, low fat – as this automatically comes with the territory of being an athlete wanting to drop weight. I remember many years of filling up on veggies; my stomach felt full, but somehow I still felt hungry. I think being told that I needed to cut back my avocado to a ¼ was my tipping point”.

Jo discovered LCHF through her flatmate Joe McQuillan, who is an ex-student from AUT. He introduced her to the concept, she got into her reading, and then got stuck in.

“I got straight into ketosis, measuring my blood ketones daily and watching them change before and after exercise. I felt the full brain fog for about a week but after that I was fine. I had very little carbs at all, and found it quite easy to eat like that. I enjoyed the convenience of being able to go without food for a few hours while on the water. My work on the boat is endurance, and I don’t really get to that high intensity point much, but even at the times in the gym when I did and got to maximum heart rate, I didn’t find my top end to be improved or reduced, it was fine. My work on the water is more about using your brain power, and I felt a lot clearer and could think easily”.

As far as Aleh’s weight went, she easily dropped the weight she needed and then naturally plateaued at the weight where she needed to be. Lucky maybe, or maybe she just knows her body so well, that it worked out as planned. “I probably cycled in and out of ketosis for about a year and it was quite easy to keep the weight off. During this time I was overseas a lot, which made things a lot harder to maintain the level of strictness that I did when in routine back at home in New Zealand”.

olympic gold jo aleh

“I think at one point I went too low carb, and actually found that I started craving the foods that I had cut out, almost like a reverse addiction. I soon learnt that this wasn’t sustainable, as bad habits were starting to creep in. This was heightened with the added stress of racing, and it got a bit much.  So I settled in to a higher level of carbs, still low in carbs compared to conventional guidelines, and higher in healthy fat, but I just wasn’t as strict as before”.

“I know when I need to add more carbs in – that’s for my paddle-boarding work, not for my sailing. I find it intuitive and it works for me, probably because I’ve tried everything else. For me, I know that I run better on fats that I do on sugars. I much prefer LCHF to keto, it’s less stressful and when you’re an athlete you don’t need another thing to worry about. I really think that it’s a good idea for athletes to have another option because one way doesn’t seem to work for everyone. You just don’t know until you try.”


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