Challenging Beliefs – Memoirs of a Career by Tim Noakes

Summation: A Thoughtful Rebuttal of Medical Orthodoxy & Prevailing Wisdom

Rating: 5 out of 5

All serious runners have made an acquaintance with Tim Noake’s opus magnum, The Lore of Running albeit fleetingly. But what one is not aware of is that Time Noake is more than merely a writer on running propounding the sage & epiphanous thoughts of the greats whether as runners or as scientists. Instead Tim Noake’s must surely rank as one of the giants of Medical Exercise Research on a par with the best in the world. As well as being co-founder of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, he is also a world renowned researcher in his own right.

By adopting the path less travelled in his endeavour to establish the truth, he has clashed with the titans of the medical fraternity, being ridiculed at every turn. The longest of these ongoing wars lasted an incredible 30 years before he was finally vindicated.

This conflict is dealt with in the section entitled Waterlogged. In over 100 pages Tim details how he serendipitously discovered that the accepted orthodoxy – partly as the result of research by two eminent South Africans – that heatstroke was not caused by dehydration. By confusing correlation with causation, they then made the leap that dehydration during exercise was fatal unless one drank to excess prior to becoming thirsty. They took it even further & postulated that in endurance events one had to “water load” days in advance. They advocated drinking one litre of water per hour for days before the event.

Despite having had no cases of athletes dying during marathon since its re-introduction in 1896, this maxim was readily adopted by the nascent sport. This immediately resulted in the first death on the Comrades. By chance the attending doctor in Durban decided to first test the remaining two athletes’ salt levels. Both were far below accepted norms. Contrary to received wisdom, they were overhydrated & suffering from EAH – exercise associated hyponatraemia, a previously unknown ailment – & not dehydration. Through sheer luck, their lives were spared. Moreover he then by sheer happenstance took another fortuitous decision; to the one he gave a .9% saline solution & the other a 3% saline solution. The latter recovered within hours whereas the former took days whilst being in a coma.

Being a true believer in the accepted medical orthodoxy, Noake’s was mystified. The realisation soon dawned on him that the science was fallacious & that in fact one should rather let one’s body dictate the rate of fluid consumption rather than the generally accepted theory.

It is at this point that the 30 year war commenced. Instead of merely testing Noake’s assertions, he was vilified. His opponent was Gatorade, the largest supplier of energy drinks in the world who had funded all the research & packed the various scientific institutions with their acolytes.

The current controversy roiling around him & which has created renewal vilification, denigration & ridicule is his assertion that current diets create obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol & diabetes. Moreover he alleges that the consumption of fat per se without consuming carbohydrates never causes cholesterol or the clogging of one’s arteries.


In trying to prevent yet another yo-yo diet, Tim scoured the literature in order to understand why conventional diets do not work. This odyssey took Tim to the two Williams – William Banting & an ENT Specialist William Harvey – who met in the 1860s. William Banting suffered from obesity which no diet would result in a weight reduction. Serendipitously William Harvey had become aware of glucose & carbohydrates. He strongly advised William Banting never to eat any carbohydrate anymore. Instead he recommended that as much protein, animal fat & vegetables could be eaten. The result was miraculous. Not only did he lose weight but he never felt hungry so he never had cravings whilst on diet.

This would remain the accepted medical orthodoxy for another 50 years when due to a number of quirks, conventional wisdom was firmly & irrevocably overturned to become accepted that fat was the dastardy element causing blocked arteries & creating cholesterol.

By Noake’s using himself as a guinea pig, he has convincingly shown this to be a fallacy. Not only has he lost weight & kept it off, but his cholesterol levels are within acceptable levels.

Whether Tim’s hypothesis will prove to be enduring only time will tell, but in this process Tim is doing battle with combined might of the Medical Fraternity, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, food industry & a whole lot more. The ramifications are immense. Should his theories ultimately prove to be correct, whole industries   will be decimated?  Not only that but a whole way of life will vanish. Maybe this discovery is too late for those suffering from the depredations of these diseases, but this will unveil a new mankind much like its predecessors, sleek & thin without an ounce of fat on them

The style of writing is fluid without an emphasis on the graphs & tables beloved of academics & Tim’s technical writings. Perhaps that is why Tim Noakes has elected to have it co-written by a non-academic.

This book is an eye-opener in which the supposedly scientific medical research industry is held in thrall by superstar academics, pharmaceuticals & their acolytes. There is much to ponder on.


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