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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

Intermittent Fasting without realising it!

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

Putaruru High School Athletics Team 1970
Putaruru High School Athletics Team 1970

Take a look at this team. Every one of them is lean, incredibly physically fit and some down-right gifted. I'd argue that just about any of these young athletes had the talent to represent New Zealand if only they gave it a go. There is one future 4 x Olympian and can you spot the boy who became the father of the founder of Trademe?

Barefoot, we walked, ran and rode bikes everywhere. Our parents never drove us to school. Many of the rural children had long hikes and rides to catch the school bus. We did chores after school or assisted on the farm. We all participated in one or more sports. Hard physical activity was the daily norm. We were still very much a rural country with a strong pioneering spirit.


Before reading any further, please refresh your memory of my earlier article about how to do intermittent fasting.

Putaruru High School Cross Country Team 1970
Putaruru High School Cross Country Team 1970

Here's our 1969 school cross country team. No fat, just lean teenagers with a load of talent and energy to burn. Any one of them, me excluded, would win just about any race in New Zealand today, that was possible. Ned, the boy to my left, for example, did no training but was the most gifted natural runner I ever knew. I guess Ned left school early to work in the forests. He is now working on the roads here in Wellington. Note, as well, that all but one of us are barefoot. We never ran in shoes, including on the roads. We had incredibly tough feet back then.

Putaruru High School Cross Country Race 1970

In the photo above, Lorraine is in 2nd place. The purpose of this photo is so you can get an idea of the depth of natural athletic fitness that existed back then. Despite the fact that Lorraine went on to be one of the best distance runners in the world, her abilities as a runner were not that outstanding back then. What was later to be outstanding was her work ethic and her sheer determination!

Please take note of these adolescent female physiques. They are strong and lean, not obese and definitely not skinny and wasted which is the physical appearance of the runner of today. More about this to come.

Lorraine sprinting for the tape
Lorraine sprinting for the tape

These athletes not only had endless endurance but also an awesome turn of speed.

NZ 3 km championships about 1980
NZ 3 km championships about 1980

Can you name these athletes, the venue, the race and the date? Several of these women went on to international greatness. All would win any domestic race in New Zealand these days.

I want you to look closely at their physiques and the way they are running. Look at the physical strength of their bodies and how they run with a bounce in their strides. There is no weak and laboured, flat-footed running among them.

Lorraine running track

The images above and below show the physique of both an 800 m and marathon runner combined into one.

Lorraine out training
Lorraine out training

Lorraine and Dad on their long Sunday run

So, what has all of this got to do with Intermittent Fasting otherwise known as "Ketosis"?

When intermittent Fasting was once the norm

As I pointed out in my earlier article about intermittent fasting, going for long periods of time without eating, plus doing hard physical exercise at the same time was the norm, whether you were a farmer, a bush-worker or a school child. When the hunger was broken, it was broken by a substantial meal that was rich in nutrients, including fat and protein. Physiques, including bone structure, were strong. Strength was the norm.

I'm now going to explain how intermittent fasting (ketosis) extended to the way New Zealand athletes of the 1960s and '70s trained and how this turned New Zealand into the middle and long-distance running power that it once was. Fasting was a natural part of our athletic training.

The long Sunday Runs during the '60s and '70s

Every Saturday we would do either a club run or do a race, such an hour-long pack run or a cross-country race of from 3-8 kilometres which was basically an intense hilly and muddy slog, leaping fences, gates and ditches. This kind of intense running had the effect of depleting our bodies reserves of carbohydrates and sugars, also known as glycogen.

Early on Sunday, Dad would have us out of bed early to go for a long run through Pinedale Forest which is a huge exotic forest that extends up and over the Mamaku Range towards Rotorua and Tauranga. The network of forestry roads was endless. On more than one occasion Dad became lost while running in the forest and was the subject of a search and rescue mission during one run which became an overnight test of his endurance.

The aim of these runs was to run at a steady pace for about two or more hours. These were tough runs. I remember being in such an exhausted state towards the end of one run (Lorraine and Dad had gone ahead), that I was floundering about so much and appearing to go backwards while trying to climb a last hill on the road back to Putaruru that a motorist stopped and gave me a lift. A runner never accepted a lift during a run. These were tough runs!

These long Sunday runs began with us close to being in a state of ketosis

The intense running on Saturday meant that we had depleted our glycogen reserves (it takes 3-5 days to replenish depleted glycogen stores). Running for two hours at a brisk pace would have quickly emptied any remaining carbohydrate reserves. These runs were not a slow shuffle, by the way.

There was no breakfast on the Sunday before running, perhaps a cup of tea and a small piece of toast with honey but not much else. When running fast anything in the tummy would quickly cause the stitch or vomiting, so all runs were best done with an empty stomach.

We never were aware of it but these long runs were training our ability to run on fat (ketosis) and this was done every week. What could be more perfect than this for developing endless fat-burning stamina, especially when you combine this with the snack-free way of eating!

Breaking the Sunday Fast

As I've said before, there is no such thing as breakfast unless there is a fast to break. We'd get home and have a feed of food like porridge and cream once we felt able. Then, a few hours later, this was followed up by the traditional midday family Sunday Roast. This usually consisted of roast lamb and vegetables followed by pudding. I most recall how delicious these meals were and how I always felt so full that all I wanted to do was to lie down and rest in the afternoon!

When you come to think of it, this was the perfect weekly scheme for intermittent fasting.

The Super Coach of the 1960,s and '70s, Arthur Lydiard, once boasted that his athletes got faster and faster as they proceeded through the heats and semis, of competitions such as the Olympic 1500 meters, saving their best for the final, whereas the interval trained athletes had usually given their best before then. Peter Snell and other Kiwi athletes sure did demonstrate this on more than one occasion.

Peter Snell creaming it!
Peter Snell creaming it!

Conserving muscle glycogen leads to winning performances

For extremely high-intensity and sustained exercise an athlete must have ample muscle glycogen to draw upon. If glycogen is in poor supply, the ability to sustain extremely intense exercise is compromised. The muscles will feel tired and heavy and they will quickly seize. Only a tired plod will be possible as fatigue quickly sets in.

When an athlete habitually trains in a state of ketosis their muscle glycogen is better spared other than for the most intense of efforts. By efficiently burning fat at high intensities these athletes spare their glycogen such that they will have better stores to call on when needed as compared to the athletes alongside them who are not ketosis-conditioned.

What happened to me?

By about 30 years of age, my university education about nutrition was getting the better of me. Increasingly, my diet was sugar and carbohydrate-soaked. As health and performance gradually declined, I steadily reduced my fat, dairy, eggs and meat consumption. My intake of fat-reduced foods and heart-healthy non-dairy spreads increased. I brought into the snack every two hours message.

Sports drinks and sports gels full of GMO corn syrup hit the market. I followed the research advice of the Gatorade Institute which urged us to consume even more sugar in the form of Gatorade! The more my health deteriorated along with my declining athletic performances, the more I restricted the animal fats and proteins. I was unknowingly fuelling a downwards spiral into chronic ill-health!

My last running race

By my mid-40s I was finished as an athlete. I could barely muster a shuffle. My heart was weak and irregular, my mind was befuddled. I was consulting a cardiologist. My last race was the NZ Masters Cross Country Championships where our Victoria Unversity team was in the lead until the baton was handed to me. I took off then came to an almost complete halt about halfway into the lap. I became disoriented and wobbled and staggered to the handover, losing several places in the process. The rest of the team was not happy about that. I was confused, deeply embarrassed and devastated. I had let my team down. We came second at the end which was a remarkable recovery, but it should have been an easy win. That was the end of my sporting career right there. Looking back I had suffered an episode of atrial fibrillation.

This kind of heart condition had struck my father down a couple of times during races and it is what finally ended his life while out for his early morning walk/run.

On my 50th birthday, I sold my business because I was too tired to go to work. I could not concentrate well and I could not handle stress of any kind. My heart was playing up. I spent the next five years trying to recover.

The slow Renaissance of my health and my sporting life

At about 56 years of age, I was introduced to the Interclinical Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and began to realize that the nutrition advice I had been so faithfully following and dispensing to all of my clients was actually very wrong. I began to reintroduce with some caution, foods like meat and full cream milk. To my delight, my performance as an athlete began to improve and I began to feel just great! I've continued to refine what I'm doing, including reintroducing intermittent fasting, all with great results that I still find hard to believe are real. I'd increased my cardiovascular output by at least 30% by age 65 and it is continuing to increase to this day - astonishing! Unbelievable! Impossible!

I guess winning the UCI Masters Mountain Bike World Championships, back-to-back is real enough!

The world champion for two years in a row
The world champion for two years in a row

You might like this:


Here is a podcast worth listening to

During my early years of study, Professor Tim Noakes had a big influence. Please take a few minutes to listen to the podcasts featuring him and other researchers such as Gary Taubes and Dr Malcolm Kendrik.

And this guide to Intermittent Fasting is comprehensive:

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