Tim Noakes

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Tim Noakes
Tim Noakes at West Point in 2009
Timothy David Noakes

1949 (age 74–75)
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of Cape Town
Diocesan College
Known forCentral governor Theory of Fatigue
Hyponatremia research
The "Noakes Diet"
Scientific career
FieldsExercise physiology
InstitutionsUniversity of Cape Town

Timothy David Noakes (born 1949) is a South African scientist, and an emeritus professor in the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town.

He has run more than 70 marathons and ultramarathons,[1] and is the author of several books on exercise and diet. He is known for his work in sports science and for his support of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF, Banting) diet, as set out in his books The Real Meal Revolution and Lore of Nutrition: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs.


Noakes was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (today Harare, Zimbabwe) in 1949 as the son of a third-generation tobacco exporter[2] and moved to South Africa at the age of five.[3] As a young boy his main sporting interest was cricket. Noakes attended boarding school at Monterey Preparatory School in Constantia, Cape Town.[3] One year was spent as a foreign exchange student at Huntington Park High School in Huntington Park, California. Prep school was followed by Diocesan College, from which he matriculated in 1966.[4] He has earned an MBChB (1974), MD (1981), and DSc (Med) (2002).


In 1980 Noakes was tasked to start a sports science course at the University of Cape Town. Noakes went on to head the Medical Research Council-funded Bioenergetics of Exercise Research Unit, which was later changed to the MRC/UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine.[5]

In the early 1990s Noakes co-founded the Sports Science Institute of South Africa,[6] with former South African rugby player Morne du Plessis.

He is a leading researcher on the condition now known as exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH).[7] He first recognised this condition in a female runner during the 1984 Comrades Marathon, and published his findings in 1985 in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Noakes wrote the consensus statement for the 1st International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference in Cape Town in May 2005.

In 1996 Noakes published his theory of the "central governor".[8] The theory proposed that fatigue is a "protective emotion" rather than a physiological state.[9]

Noakes served on the selection panel for the International Olympic Committee’s Science Prize between 1995 and 2002.[4] Noakes is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.

In 2005 he undertook a series of experiments in the Arctic and Antarctic on South African (British-born) swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh to understand human capability in extreme cold. He discovered that Pugh had the ability to raise his core body temperature before entering the water in anticipation of the cold and coined the phrase 'anticipatory thermo-genesis' to describe it.[10][11] In 2007, Noakes was the expedition doctor for Pugh's one kilometre swim at the Geographic North Pole.[12]

The Noakes Diet[edit]

Noakes has characterised mainstream dietary advice, which emphasizes carbohydrate consumption, as "genocide",[13] and instead advocates a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet — a variation of the low-carbohydrate diet — often referred to in South Africa as the "Noakes Diet" (or, less commonly, the "Banting" diet). Noakes founded the Noakes Foundation in 2012 to help promote the diet,[14] which is described in detail in Noakes's 2014 book The Real Meal Revolution.[15] Noakes' father died from diabetes.[8] Noakes believes his father's diet was instrumental in his decline,[8] so following his own diagnosis with diabetes, Noakes changed his diet to a LCHF diet. He also reversed the carbohydrate-loading advice he had given previously to athletes, and which had featured extensively in his book Lore of Running.[8] He has cited the effects of diabetes on his father and his father's life regrets as important motivation for his efforts to promulgate his dietary advice.[2]

Despite following his diet, Noakes's fasting glucose levels barely budged, and he started taking the diabetes management drug metformin and dietary supplements to control the condition. He now describes himself as "cured" as long as he follows this regimen.[8]

Registered dietician Megan Pentz-Kluyts said that omitting food groups, as Noakes's diet does, is the hallmark of fad diets not backed up by scientific evidence.[16] After members of the Parliament of South Africa expressed support for his diet, fellow faculty members at the University of Cape Town accused him of making “outrageous, unproven claims about disease prevention” in an open letter they sent to the Cape Times. Wim de Villiers, dean of the faculty, accused Noakes of having no real scientific evidence to back up his assertions.[17]

In February 2014 a registered dietician complained to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) that Noakes tweeted to a mother that she should wean her baby onto low-carbohydrate, high-fat foods, which he described as real foods. The HPCSA held a hearing about the allegation against Noakes over the next few years. Controversially, on 28 October 2016, the HPSCA incorrectly released a statement announcing that Noakes had been found guilty of misconduct, namely "giving unconventional advice over social media". In a second press release issued over three hours later, the HPSCA apologised for the mistake.[18] Noakes was cleared of misconduct in April 2017.[19][20] The HPSCA lost its appeal in June 2018 and the appeal committee dismissed the HPSCA's case by unanimous decision.[21] Noakes commented: "Acquitted on all counts, twice, by two different judging panels".[21]

Noakes co-wrote the 2017 book Lore of Nutrition with journalist Marika Sboros.[22] In it Noakes describes his conversion to LCHF dieting, and writes that in his view the lipid hypothesis is the "biggest mistake in modern medicine". He details his struggles with the medical establishment.[22] Paediatrician Alastair McAlpine criticised Noakes's Lore of Nutrition book as "bad science" in a review,[22] to which Noakes responded.[23]

Clinical dietitian Ingrid Schloss, citing a 2018 study,[24] pointed out that no significant differences were found between low-fat and low-carb diets, and suggested that instead of the "fundamentalism" of the Noakes diet, people should be encouraged to reduce added sugar and refined grains; choose more whole foods, and include a wide variety of vegetables.[25]

Other controversies over public statements[edit]

In August 2014, Noakes tweeted: "Dishonest science. Proven link between autism and early immunisation covered up?".[26] The tweet included a link to a video from disgraced ex-doctor and anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield, in which Wakefield was repeating the conspiracy theory that the CDC is covering-up a link between vaccination and autism.[26] Subsequently asked directly on Twitter if he thought there was a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, Noakes responded: “Have no opinion. Focus of video was on wilful distortion of science and importance of whistleblowers. How did you miss it?”[26]

In a 2021 opinion piece published by News24 Eduard Grebe, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, wrote that Noakes had "a long history of making misleading and false claims", including support for the false claim that MMR vaccines can cause autism and claiming that hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment for COVID-19.[27]

Awards and achievements[edit]

In 1996 he was honoured by the American College of Sports Medicine when he was asked to present the J.B. Wolfe Memorial Lecture, the college's keynote address at its annual meeting. In 2002 he was awarded a Doctorate in Science (DSc). In 2002 Noakes was awarded the International Cannes Grand Prix Award for Research in Medicine and Water, for his work on Exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). In 2004 Runner's World (USA) included this work as one of the 40 most important "persons or events" in the sport of running in the past 40 years. In 2008 he was elected an honorary fellow of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine (UK), the first foreigner to be so recognised. In that year he also received the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver), from the President of South Africa for his "excellent contribution in the field of sports and the science of physical exercise". In 2011 Noakes was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands.[28] In 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from South Africa's National Research Foundation for his contribution to sports science research. In 2014 the Southern Africa Association for the Advancement of Science (S2A3) awarded Noakes their prestigious South Africa Medal (gold) for his outstanding contributions to sport physiology.[29]

Selected publications[edit]

Noakes has written several books detailing his research in sports science and nutrition. A selected bibliography is given below.

  • Lore of Running (1986)[30]
  • Running Injuries: How to Prevent and Overcome Them (1990)
  • Lore of Cycling (1990)
  • Running your Best (1995)
  • Rugby without Risk (1996)
  • Bob Woolmer’s Art and Science of Cricket (2008) with the late Bob Woolmer.[4]
  • Challenging Beliefs: Memoirs of a Career (2012)[31]
  • Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports (2012)
  • The Real Meal Revolution (2014)
  • Raising Superheroes (2015)
  • Lore of Nutrition: Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs, with Marika Sboros (2017)[32]
  • Real Food On Trial: How the diet dictators tried to destroy a top scientist, with Marika Sboros (2019)[33]


  1. ^ "RA024 Dr. Tim Noakes: A Lifetime of Running and Research".
  2. ^ a b "Tim Noakes: Nutritional Fascism and the "Twitter Trial"".
  3. ^ a b "How Tim wants you to train". Archived from the original on 14 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Official Site, SA Government. "Timothy David Noakes (1949 – ) The Order of Mapungubwe". The Presidency. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  5. ^ MRC/UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Archived 24 December 2012 at archive.today
  6. ^ Sports Science Institute of South Africa
  7. ^ Speedy, DB; Noakes TD; Schneider C (2001). "Exercise-associated Hyponatremia: A review". Emerg Med. 13 (1): 17–27. doi:10.1046/j.1442-2026.2001.00173.x. PMID 11476407. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e Gifford, Bill (9 December 2016). "The Silencing of a Low-Carb Rebel". Outside Online. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  9. ^ Hutchinson, Alex. (12 December 2014). "What Is Fatigue?", The New Yorker. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Pugh will be the guinea pig", (2 March 2006). News24. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  11. ^ Knott, Jonathan (29 November 2013). "Dipping my toe into cold-water swimming", The Guardian. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  12. ^ Cramb, Auslan. (16 July 2007) "North Pole swimmer's unique body heat trick", The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  13. ^ Child K (16 October 2017). "Noakes calls traditional food pyramid 'genocide'". Sunday Times. South Africa.
  14. ^ "Professor Tim Noakes: Challenging conventional dietary guidelines". Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  15. ^ Whiting, Kate (12 August 2015). "The Real Meal Revolution". Press and Journal. Retrieved 3 June 2023.
  16. ^ Health, Mens (17 February 2012). "The Tim Noakes Diet". Men's Health. Retrieved 28 May 2023.
  17. ^ Villette, Francesca (25 August 2014). "UCT doctors slam Noakes". Cape Times.
  18. ^ Etheridge, Jenna. "No ruling from Tim Noakes hearing, matter adjourned until April 2017". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  19. ^ Digital, TMG. "Tim Noakes cleared of misconduct over 'baby Banting' tweet". Times LIVE. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  20. ^ "Noakes cleared of misconduct. Full HPCSA judgment". Medical Brief. 26 April 2017. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  21. ^ a b "Noakes clears final hurdle, not guilty says HPCSA appeal committee". News24. 9 June 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  22. ^ a b c McAlpine A (10 January 2018). "Less lore and more science, please, Prof Noakes". Medical Brief.
  23. ^ "Noakes: 'A litany of specious comments and errors'". Juta MedicalBrief. 24 January 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  24. ^ Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, Hauser ME, Rigdon J, Ioannidis JPA; et al. (2018). "Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial". JAMA. 319 (7): 667–679. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245. PMC 5839290. PMID 29466592.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ "'End the vilification of the dietetic profession' - dietician". Juta MedicalBrief. 28 February 2018. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  26. ^ a b c Geffen N (27 August 2014). "Tim Noakes and the responsibility of experts". GroundUp.
  27. ^ "Tim Noakes and BizNews are spreading dangerous falsehoods". News24 (Opinion). 6 June 2021.
  28. ^ "Honorary doctorates". VU University: Research. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  29. ^ Plug, C. (2015). "The 2014 South Africa Medal (gold): Awarded to Professor Timothy Noakes", Rudolf Marloth Brochure 2015: 1–3.
  30. ^ Noakes, Tim. 2003. The Lore of Running. (4th edition) Oxford University Press ISBN 0-87322-959-2
  31. ^ Noakes, Timothy, 1949- (2012). Challenging beliefs : memoirs of a career. Vlismas, Michael. (New ed.). Cape Town: Zebra Press. ISBN 9781770224599. OCLC 785373938.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Noakes, Timothy, 1949- (22 January 2018). Lore of nutrition : challenging conventional dietary beliefs. Sboros, Marika. Cape Town. ISBN 9781776092611. OCLC 1013165315.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Noakes, Timothy, 1949- (2019). Real Food On Trial: How the diet dictators tried to destroy a top scientist. Sboros, Marika. Cape Town. ISBN 978-1907797651.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)