What is a detox and is it necessary?

After a period of excess (which might have happened during the off-season!) there’s often a suggestion of needing a detox, a purification of all the self-indulgence. So what is a detox? What does it really involve? And is it truly necessary? Renee McGregor examines the truth...


So what is a detox? What does it really involve? And is it truly necessary? 

Many of us who take our sport seriously, regardless of our level, tend to be fairly structured and disciplined. How else can you ensure that you train over three events while also trying to balance work, friends and family commitments?


However during the off-season these structures and discipline can slide. While a welcome change to start with, after a few weeks this lack of structure and change to your normal practices can leave you feeling a little ‘out of sync’. You’ll no doubt now be wanting to regain some form of ‘control’. But it’s this desire to get back on track with your training and progress that can lead you to thinking that a detox is the best place to start.

What is a natural detox?

Some of you may have previously tried the more typical methods of detox promoted in the media, such as juicing or fasting. But before you embark down this path, it’s worth knowing that our bodies are very resilient and pretty good at achieving balance.

Our livers are very efficient at naturally ‘detoxing’ the over indulgences of alcohol. And while our waistbands may feel slightly tighter, with a few weeks of fairly normal eating and light training, this’ll also be reversed.

In fact, the worse thing you could do is go on a severely restrictive ‘detox’ programme. After a few weeks of eating slightly more than normal, your body will actually have raised your metabolism to cope with the additional food intake. If you then drastically cut this down, you’ll shock the body to think it’s ‘starving’ so the body will actually work against you, not with you.

When the body feels ‘the threat of starvation’ it tends to go into ‘preservation mode’, which means it holds onto extra body fat, making it more difficult for you to lose those few extra pounds.

So what can you do to give your diet a kick-start? My advice is to slowly start to make changes over several weeks. Set yourself realistic targets. So, instead of thinking ‘I’ll lose 2kg in two weeks’, tell yourself that over the course of January, you’ll aim to lose this extra 2kg. This is far more achievable and means you won’t be putting your body under huge amounts of pressure and, in the long run, are more likely to succeed.

Limit, don’t deprive

Start with looking at what’s become ‘surplus’ to your normal diet. Is it alcohol and can you start by reducing this to a few times a week rather than daily? Or maybe it’s just the extra snacking, a handful of nuts every time you walk past the coffee table; a slice of cake with every cup of tea or coffee; or trying to finish up the cheese and biscuits as a late-night snack?

Deprivation is definitely not the answer so why not try to limit your choice to one of these a day? You’ll soon reduce your overall calories in a week, without really feeling like you’ve had to make drastic change.


Want more expert advice on how best to fuel your training and racing needs? Then take a look at our huge nutrition section.