Interview with HoldTheCarbs Founder and CEO, Viktoria Brown
Founder of HoldTheCarbs, Viktoria Brown, discusses how she lost 50lbs in 6-months and trains for marathons by following a low carb diet, and her advice for those wanting to start a low carb diet.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to replace personalized medical advice. A low carb diet may not be suitable for you. Consult your health care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle or use this information at your own risk.
Viktoria Brown is an avid marathon runner and IronMan triathlete who has used low carb dieting for the past 5 years to manage her weight and improve her athletic performance. She is also a mother of three and the owner of HoldTheCarbs, a brand specializing in delicious low carb, gluten-free and keto-friendly bake mixes! Her accomplishments in 2020 alone have been quite impressive. She has participated in four races, including the Hungarian National Long-Course Triathlon Championship and 24-hour, 34-hour and 48-hour ultra-marathon races. She won three of these races, set records for two of them, and won a World Championship medal in the 4th race with Team Canada!
So, we sat down with Viktoria to ask her a few questions about her preparation for these events in terms of her diet and training. We also learned how she incorporates her bake mixes from HoldTheCarbs into her preparation for these races and discovered some fun insider recipes! Finally, she provided some great advice for our readers wanting to achieve weight loss and fitness goals using low carb dieting and how to stay motivated during trying times. Check out the full interview below!
The Low Carb Grocery: When did you start training for marathons?
Viktoria: I started training after my third child was born. I just wanted to lose weight. Actually, my first goal was to do an IronMan race one day. So, in 2015, after my third daughter was born, I just started very casually going out for 30 minutes here and there and building up to eventually a marathon and then the swimming and the biking. I was even thinking, since the whole reason for doing it in the first place was weight loss, what if I lose the weight before I complete an IronMan? But then I decided that even if I hit my goal weight before doing the IronMan, which I did, I will still do the IronMan. So, I did the IronMan in 2017, that was my first one. And, actually, I got hooked! I really liked it. I found that the longer the race, the better I do because I don’t have speed, but I do have incredible natural endurance and that’s what played well for the IronMan.
The Low Carb Grocery: In your opinion, what is more important for weight loss: your diet or exercise?
Viktoria: What I realized during the whole journey was that weight loss is about diet. So, it’s very nice to plan to do a diet [to get in shape] when it supplements the goal of losing weight. But it doesn’t come down to workouts much. These days, I work out to feel good, but when I want to lose weight, I will change my diet to meet that goal. I find its about 90% diet and 10% exercise for weight loss.
The low Carb Grocery: How did you use your own products as part of your diet to lose weight?
Viktoria: For me, the easiest way to lose that weight was low carb and that’s how my company comes into the picture. I really believe in replacing [high carb] foods. All of these keto products out there are doing an excellent job at making the keto diet easy for people because you can get the same things that you would on a high carb diet in a low carb alternative. I’m a big believer in that. We don’t need to give up the high carb stuff we like, we can absolutely replace them with low carb alternatives. And the foods that I didn’t find but would’ve liked to have as a low carb alternative, I created those for my company! So, you have the muffins, the brownies, the pizza. There are a lot of replacement options. And I found that [the low carb diet] is very effective because these replacements make it very easy to follow.
The Low Carb Grocery: Would you be able to elaborate more on why you think a low carb diet worked so well for you?
Viktoria: There are a lot of reasons why a low carb diet works. One is that carbs are very high calories, so you are taking a huge amount of calories out of your diet. The other reason is that if you manage to get your body in ketosis, then you just start to shed weight very quickly, very efficiently. It’s very visible, it’s shocking how fast it comes off! Especially when you are overweight, at first, it’s just very surprising how fast those pounds come off. There are different theories about how many carbs you can eat to lose weight. Some say 20g a day, some say 50g a day. And then it’s a question of is it total carbs or net carbs? I went by the total carbs, and I was relatively strict with it, I kept it very low. But it was very surprising that most of the weight came off in less than 6 months, and that was 50 pounds!
The Low Carb Grocery: Do you have any special ways to use your products that may not be suggested on your packaging, but that you’d like to share with our customers?
Viktoria: There are a lot of ways! Our customers come back to us and surprise us all the time. For example, our Brownie Mix can be made into muffins! Even though we do have a Muffin Mix, one of our customers decided to make it into muffins and it worked really well. So, they are chocolate muffins basically. On our website, we also share a bunch of other recipes for the Muffin Mix. [Link here]. They are absolutely delicious, there’s apple cinnamon or my absolute favourite is the mocha which uses Nescafé for flavoring. One trick with these muffins is that actually, you can freeze them, and eat them frozen! Especially the mocha muffins.
Above picture from HoldTheCarbs’ Instagram, follow them @holdthecarbsca for more recipe and fitness inspiration!
The Low Carb Grocery: How do you prepare for races now in terms of your diet and training? Is it different from when you were just trying to lose weight?
Viktoria: Even these days, I sometimes go back to a relatively strict low carb diet. I did that early last year when I decided to push my weight a little bit lower than it was in previous seasons because in running, the lighter you are, the faster you are. So, I thought, let’s see if I can get faster if I lose a few pounds. And so, I did lose about 10 more pounds, and sure enough, I got faster.
I’m actually just about to go back to low carb again. Around the races, I don’t necessarily race low carb, it depends on what the race is. I usually don’t fuel my workouts so I’m very efficient generally in fat burning. Even for a 2- or 3-hour workout, I might not take anything other than water. It depends. Especially if it’s an easy, low intensity workout, then I don’t fuel it. If it’s a hard one – like this morning I did a very hard run – but it was not that long, it was an hour and a half, so I decided not to fuel it, not to eat any high carb foods during the workout. So, I just went on water.
If it’s long and hard, I do tend to fuel it. Because I change it up, that teaches my body and encourages the fat burning mechanisms to kick in. I’m a very efficient fat burner, which comes in handy during the long races. So, the 24-hour, 34-hour and 48-hour races, in those you just can’t put in enough carbs during that long period to replace what you burn. Sooner or later, I think for me it’s around the 12-hour mark, that the fat burning has to come in to supplement the carb burning. The workouts when I didn’t take anything but water, those come in handy because they teach your body to burn fat efficiently for energy. I also repeat that just before the race.
I also have a full protocol for how I eat 2 weeks before the race and there are 10 days there that are very strictly low carb. This is for any race that is going to be 12 hours or longer. And that sort of reminds my body of what it already knows, how to efficiently burn fat for fuel. Then I do a carb load right at the end before the race. But that fuel can only last for the first hour or two during the race. I will burn that very, very quickly and then I will need to rely on the fat stores.
The Low Carb Grocery: What’s your reasoning for carb loading just before the race? Do marathon runners need carbs to perform well?
Viktoria: I carb load so that the first few hours of the race are faster, so I can get ahead. For me, I start out with a harder effort or faster pace than most people would think is ideal. But I do like to front load these races, so for that reason I take the carbs right before. There is a theory behind not taking anything and just going absolutely on fat, but the body is more efficient at burning carbs than at burning fat. So, I do take advantage of burning all the carbs I can get in and quickly burn, and then there is nothing left, so I have to rely on the fat stores. So that’s why for me, it is important to have both. There are athletes who will only rely on the fat-burning part, but I like to rely on both.
The Low Carb Grocery: You mentioned that your body has become really efficient at fat-burning. Is this a natural thing for you or is it to do with training your body to become more efficient?
Viktoria: You totally have to train it. So, for example, fast marathoners that run under 3 hours, they might not even need to burn any fat because they are able to replace all the carbs on the go and 3 hours is not necessarily long enough to burn through those carbs. So, they don’t even need to be efficient at burning fat. And they usually will train on carbs and fuel most workouts, so they don’t train their body to burn the fat.
If you want to lose weight, then definitely that’s what you want to do; you want to train your body to burn fat, not whatever you just ate. But also, if you are going longer distances, you definitely need that fat burning.
The Low Carb Grocery: What are some other things you do to prepare for your races to help your body feel at its best?
Viktoria: I do a lot of things before a race, and I just picked up a few more ideas, too. To be honest, I have a very strict regimen that starts 2 weeks before the race. That’s when I start fat loading, so super low carb high fat, basically keto, for 10 days. At the same time, I drop coffee and switch to decaf for the first week. For the second week, I also take out the decaf so there is absolutely no caffeine in my body before the race. And then, the last 4 days, I eat carbs. Three of those days are a normal high carb diet. When I start the high carb diet, I also start drinking 2 cups of beet juice a day. That will give me 5 days including race morning and that helps with the blood flow and oxygen use. The last day is even trickier because the day before the race I don’t eat solids anymore. I also take out dairy for the last week. So, it’s dairy-free the last week before the race just so my stomach is ready, I have a very sensitive stomach that doesn’t do well with dairy. And the last day before the race is basically dairy-free ice cream! I love cookie dough ice cream. And then race morning, I will eat baby cereal and drink the beet juice. And depending on the length of the race, I might drink a coffee. If it’s an IronMan, I tend to drink a coffee in the morning but for the 24-hour races, I did not. I hold off until later in the race when it really comes in handy.
The Low Carb Grocery: What is your advice for those considering starting a low carb diet, or maybe even train for marathons or similar events like you?
Viktoria: The most important part, and there is an article on my blog about how I lost 53lbs, I think you need to decide your priorities. So, it’s fine to run marathons and at the same time do a low carb diet, but you need to decide which is more important: to run that marathon as fast as you can or to lose weight. And you can even switch these goals during your training, that’s what I do. I say, “okay, January, February and March I’m going to dedicate to weight loss and then from April onwards I’m going to prepare for this marathon and just maintain my weight”. What I find is that maintaining weight while you’re training hard is fine, but because you need to fuel those workouts, the hard ones especially, you can’t use those workouts to lose weight. You’re basically putting back the calories so that your performance improves. So, if your goal is to lose weight and you’re not fuelling those workouts with the necessary calories, then those workouts will not lead to maximum performance. However, for example for my first few marathons, it did not matter because my priority was weight loss. And once I lost all the weight I wanted, I started to pay attention to performance.
The Low Carb Grocery: How do you balance your popular HoldTheCarbs business while also training for marathons?
Viktoria: I try to delegate. What I learned is that the only resource that is limited in your life is time. You can always make more money, get more stuff – it doesn’t matter. The only thing you can’t get more of is time. So, I try to use my time very wisely. And for that, delegation is the only way. I tend to hire people to do a lot of the work for me. But it is also the case that I don’t train as much as most of the athletes who perform at my level. I train about half of the hours that a normal ultra runner will train. I tend to replace the volume with intensity. I have harder and less time-consuming workouts. So, I train about 10-12 hours a week and that’s where I feel very comfortable. I don’t have more time to train because I have three children, too.
The Low Carb Grocery: And it just goes to show that you can still win a race while balancing all that!
Viktoria: Yeah, absolutely!
The Low Carb Grocery: We also wanted to touch on the fact that 2020 has been a tough year for a lot of people, but you’re winning in 2020. What would you say to people who have lost their momentum or motivation during these times to stay in shape?
Viktoria: You just have to find what works for you in terms of motivation. I know that I need a race on my horizon to motivate me. Even when all of the races that I had planned for the year got pulled, I eventually found new ones that were still a go. So, I just kept my eyes open. But there are other ways; there are groups that do challenges, there are apps that do challenges, there are virtual races. So, if those motivate you, then that’s what you should do. I wasn’t planning on doing an ultra marathon for another three years, but that’s what was available, so I did it! And luckily, I discovered I’m a natural at ultra running, which I wouldn’t have known about for three years otherwise! That’s what I’m going to do next year as well. My main goal is to run a 6-day marathon, and I actually put three of them in my calendar for April and May 2021. I still have backups beyond that if none of them go ahead. But again, it’s personal. You can set up challenges with your friends, or you can set up new goals, a weight loss goal or a distance goal per month. Whatever gives you the motivation to get out there.
We had such a great time speaking with Viktoria, and we hope that you enjoyed hearing her story, too! If you would like to check out some of the products mentioned in this article that not only helped Viktoria lose over 50 pounds, but also allowed her to become a record-setting marathon runner and triathlete, check out HoldTheCarbs here!
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