14 reasons to ditch the toast and jam (and 7 key tips to help you do this).

After feeling like I’d taken a trip back to 2003 with some of the sports nutrition posts and articles I’d been reading lately, I got tagged in a cool picture from a listener of our Fitter Radio podcast  – a triathlete who has switched from the traditional higher carb, lower fat diet approach to eating lower carb, higher fat, real food whilst training and commented she ‘didn’t know her 41 year old body could be the best body I have ever had’ (Woot! high fives all around!!) This coincided with finishing Mark Sisson’s Primal Endurance book.

Mark outlines 115 reasons why athletes should train and eat the Primal Endurance way. I concurred with pretty much all of them. I have added my own 2c worth, added some literature below (and cut it down to 21 for brevity’s sake). While geared towards athletes, hands down this is applicable to everyone. Everyone.

So if you’re currently eating toast and jam pre OR post training (or in general), I’ve outlined the 14 reasons why you need to ditch that junk and become a fat burning beast, and 7 key tips to help you get there.

  1. Western diet is based on excess grains and sugars (and low fibre) which stimulates excess insulin production, leading to lifelong insidious weight gain, chronic inflammation and elevated disease risk factors.
  2. A high carb, grain-based diet can leave endurance athletes nutrient deficient (due to phytic acid effects on minerals), inflamed and more susceptible to the oxidative damage of the stress of training, general life and poor nutrition.
  3. The way that most people consume modern grains (cereals, breads, pasta) ends up being a cheap source of calories which are immediately turned into glucose upon ingestion and offer minimal nutritional value. There are no good reasons to consume these types of grains and many good reasons not to, especially for those who are sensitive to gluten and other anti-nutrients found in wheat.
  4. Everyone is sensitive to the health compromising effects of grains at some level, especially the pro-inflammatory effects of gluten and the propensity for the lectins in grains to cause leaky gut syndrome.
  5. Even lean people suffer from the consequences of carbohydrate dependency, such as chronic inflammation, oxidative damage, and accelerated ageing and disease risk factors.
  6. Carrying excess body fat despite careful attention to diet and a high training load is largely due to carbohydrate dependency caused by a grain-based diet and chronic training patterns.
  7. Carbohydrate dependency cycle looks like this: consume a high carbohydrate meal – elevate bloods sugar – stimulate an insulin response – shut off fat metabolism and promote fat storage – experience fatigue and sugar cravings – low blood sugar elicits stress response and we consume more carbohydrates – stimulate the fight or flight response to regulate blood sugar – dysregulate and exhaust assorted hormonal processes, and end up in burnout and weight gain (potentially lifelong)
  8. Weight loss through portion control, low fat foods and calorie burning is ineffective long term. And while we think calories burned through exercise stimulate a corresponding increase in appetite – research might not back this up. I tend to think that people are more likely to eat more because they ‘reward’ themselves OR the long slow training allows increased opportunity to eat sports ‘junk food’ and the amount of calories burnt through training is far less than you think – and overestimated more so in females in certain instances. At any rate, the secret to weight loss is hormone optimisation, primarily through moderating excess insulin production.
  9. Endurance athletes can begin to dial in to their optimal carbohydrate intake by asking themselves the question ‘do I carry excess body fat?’ Any excess body fat calls for a reduction in dietary carbohydrate intake to accelerate fat burning.
  10. Endurance athletes who already have an optimal body composition but are looking to optimise training and recovery should choose high nutrient value carbohydrates. These include a high volume of vegetables, a moderate fruit intake, kumara/potatoes and other starchy tubers, dairy for those that tolerate, wild rice, quinoa and small amounts of dark chocolate.
  11. Endurance athletes with high calorie needs who also have an optimal body composition can enjoy occasional treats, but the habit of unbridled intake of nutrient-deficient carbohydrates should be eliminated in the interest of health and performance.
  12. Primal style eating (or eating minimally processed foods) is fractal and intuitive, and when escaping carbohydrate dependency and becoming fat adapted, you don’t have to rely on ingested carbs for energy. Eating patterns can be driven by hunger, pleasure and maximal nutritional benefit.
  13. Escaping sugar dependency and becoming fat adapted gives you a cleaner burning engine, since glucose burning promotes inflammation and increased oxidative stress
  14. Ketones are an internally generated, energy rich by-product of fat metabolism in the liver when blood glucose and insulin levels are low due to carbohydrate restriction in the diet. Ketones are burned efficiently by the brain, heart and skeletal tissue in the same manner as glucose. You do not need to be on a ketogenic diet to upregulate your ability to produce ketones – you can do this via a lower carbohydrate approach.

HOW TO DO THIS: 7 KEY TIPS

  1. Step one: omit sugars, grains, industrial seed oils for 21 days. Step two: emphasis highly nutritious foods such as meat, poultry, vegetables, eggs, nuts, fish, fruits, some full fat dairy, seeds, and kumara/potato.
  2. 100g or less of carbohydrate promotes fat loss, 150g is around maintenance level and over this could promote lifelong weight gain and over 300g could promote disease patterns.
  3. While transitioning to primal there are some struggles initially due to lifelong carbohydrate dependency and the addictive (for some) properties of sugar and excess grains and wheat. Headaches, dehydration, lower blood pressure and ‘dead legs’ are all initial side effects when removing processed food. Trust me – this too will pass.
  4. To minimise side effects, start the transition in a base-training phase of your training where training occurs at an easy pace. The transition phase can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks initially.
  5. Consume salt. Don’t underestimate the importance of this! Lower circulating insulin affects your body’s ability to retain sodium (and other electrolytes) – so we need more, particularly as processed food (of which you are no longer basing your diet around) is where you got around 70% of your sodium from.
  6. You can accelerate the process of fat adaptation by instigating some of the tactics used by athletes who opt to ‘train low’ – i.e. in a low glycogen training state. Some of these are naturally undertaken if you train without eating in the morning, or work out after dinner in the evening and don’t consume anything post-workout. If you’re new to this, have a read through to establish which might suit you best, and start instigating 1-2 x per week. Don’t undertake all of them as this aggressive approach could cause too much additional stress, derailing your plans to become a fat-burning beast.
  7. The FASTER study and Peter Attia, Sami Inkinen suggests any endurance athlete can become fat adapted and deliver performances that may be superior to carb-fuelled efforts all of the way up to anaerobic intensity. This is a new and growing research space, one AUT is testing, among other Universities around the globe.
Strong, lean and awesome at 41y.

Strong, lean and awesome at 41y.

 

PS What the Fat Sports Performance – currently an ebook, about to be published is one I can’t WAIT to read as well – sure to be a goody.

Type 1 diabetes, endurance sport and the LCHF approach: Lewis’ marathon experience

Following on from Lewis’ post last week about life with type 1 diabetes and following a low carbohydrate high (healthy*) fat (LCHF) diet, here is a race report from the Auckland marathon:

I did my very first marathon (Auckland marathon) two weeks ago. As a reminder, I have type 1 diabetes, eating strictly LCHF for over a year. This is not a race report of the marathon, so much, but rather a detailed analysis of my blood sugar levels from before the gun went off to when I crossed the finish line.  I wear a Dexcom G4 Continual Glucose Monitor. I inject the sensor and carry a receiver with me. It gives me minute-by-minute live blood sugar readings, which I have downloaded for you. As a diabetic, my body is unable to regulate my sugar levels. If my sugar level is good, then the session is good.

The marathon itself, as my first, surprised me by how hard it was. Everyone says 30km gets tough but you have to really experience it to believe it. I could not believe how incredibly tough it was to keep going in the last 10km. My body was fine, but my brain was mush. I was trying to finish at 4hrs, and was on that pace until 30km, but then ended at 4:17. Definitely room to improve for next year. More physical training and certainly more mental toughness will help me last to the final 200 metres.

My sugar levels and my energy levels were excellent.

Interestingly, I tested my blood ketones (to test how “deep” in ketosis I am) before and after the race too, just to see what was going on. At the start, 05:30, my blood ketones were 0.5 mmol/L. This is pretty average for me. I really battle to get higher levels of ketones than that. After the race (11:00), my ketones were 1.5 mmol/l. This illustrated to me that my body is able to access fat burning when it needs it.

I have graphed it and the link below gives a good visual – however I’ve also provided it in detail below.

lewism

Background:

  1. Target range for blood sugar level is between 4mmol/l and 7mmol/l.
  2. During training/race, it is risky to have the sugar levels too low and if they drop below 4 mmol/l, then that causes all sorts of problems. At around 3mmol/l, you get reduced effort, an inability to push yourself, lethargy, and as it gets lower, I run the risk of passing out.
  3. Equally difficult for people with type 1 diabetes is the risk of the sugar level going too high. It is commonly understood that exercise reduces blood sugar level, but only if your blood sugar is below approximately 13mmol/l. Any higher than that, then exercise triggers a response that will increase the blood sugar level further. High blood sugars are extremely uncomfortable (not to mention dangerous), and exercise is not really possible.
  4. So during a race, my target range moves from between 4 – 7mmol/l to between 6 – 9mmol/l.

Race Day:

  1. Sugar levels were excellent during the night. Trending between 4mmol/l and 6mmol/l.
  2. There is something called the Dawn Effect, which causes everyone’s blood sugars to rise just at dawn. My Dawn Effect kicked off at 4am, and took my sugar (not caused by eating anything) from 4 to 7mmol/l.
  3. Before the race, my sugar level had stabilised. I take a cup of super-salty soup stock (taken from The Art and Science of Low Carb Living), and two coconut fat bombs (basically coconut oil, coconut butter sweetened with stevia). The fat bombs are to get in some good fuel from the coconut (which contain saturated fats) just before exercise – this is something you need to play around with, as everyone has a different tolerance level to coconut oil.
  4. You can see at the start of the race my sugar level then starts to rise again. This is a strange phenomenon that I have noticed. I think it is caused by the tiny amount of carbs in the fat bombs and soup stock, as well as the body utilising the last of the glucose stores in the muscles. This increase in sugar never lasts long. You can see here that it increased from 6am to 6:20am. The sugar level was taken from a stable 7mmo/l up to 10mmol/l.
  5. Then it becomes a waiting game. I take zero carbs, and wait for my sugar levels to drop. I know they will. It usually takes over an hour. I check my Continuos Glucose Monitor all the time. Blood sugar stays stable at around 9-10mmol/l for 90 minutes.
  6. Then, over the course of the next 60 minutes, my sugar level slowly descends from around 9mmol/l to 5mmol/l.
  7. I don’t let it drop below 5mmol/l, and therefore I take my glucose supplements that I carry with me. I use Dextro Tabs, where each tab is approximately 3g of carb. I end up taking 10 tablets as I am feeling my sugar levels dropping further. So I take a total of 30g carb around the 2:30 hour mark.
  8. You can see over the next 20 mins that my blood sugar levels stabilise and then drop again. At this point, I am feeling very poor on the marathon. I am not thinking clearly, and just trying to survive.
  9. Instead of taking more Dextro Tabs, I elect to take some coke at the water stations. I take a small serving of coke (100ml) at each of the last 3 water stations. This is a total of 300ml of coke or a further 30g of carbs.
  10. You can see what this extra boost of carbs did for my sugar level in the last 30 mins of the race.
  11. Immediately after the race, my sugar levels stabilised at 9mmol/l.
  12. About half an hour after the race, my sugar level started to increase again. I think this is a result of taking coke too close to the end of the race, and not having enough exercise to burn it up. I should have stopped drinking coke about 30 mins before the end.
  13. I corrected this high blood sugar by taking insulin, and then I treated myself to a binge meal (and beer – I did just complete a marathon after all 🙂 ) and that caused the last spike in sugar around 12:30pm.

So there you have it. 4 hours massive effort on 60g carb, and the 60g ended up being probably about 10g too much.

Comparatively speaking, 1 Gu gel is 22g of carb.

LCHF is the answer!

 *Dietitian and colleague Caryn Zinn aptly changed the acronym. It works.

Susan’s ketogenic experiment

Now for something different: Susan came to me this week wanting some support as she embarked on a ketogenic diet. As a woman who is both an avid consumer of information and investigative, she’s done a lot of reading about it but hadn’t come across a much information on the effects of a ketogenic diet on a woman of her age.  So she’s undertaking an n=1, and wanted to document it. She will undoubtedly start her own blog but right now, she’s starting the journey here.

I’m Susan, a 50 year old woman and 1.53m tall, originally from the US, married to an awesome man (but sadly childless), an ‘enthusiastic participant’ of most all things outdoors and lifting weights. I was really lucky to have been raised in a very loving family, working class, suburban, incredibly ‘normal’. My mum certainly did her best where food was concerned, or at least to the understanding she had at the time – iceberg lettuce salad with dressing to start, things like meatloaf or pork chops, spaghetti and meat sauce, tinned veg, and ice cream for dessert. We normally had fast food as a treat maybe once a week – McDonalds, KFC, Fish & Chips. We were normal suburban kids, out on our bikes or in the cul-de-sac until dark, running around, walking to school, and I reckon I was normal weight until…the microwave oven!!!!!!

Both my parents worked, and when the microwave arrived, so did the easy, processed, and addictive after school treats. Hot Dogs! Burritos! Pizza! Hot Pockets! Basically, we’d get home from school and have another complete meal. Still, until I was 16, my weight was pretty much fine. I was never an athlete, but I loved my tramping and my outdoor pursuits, and was an avid girl guide. I lived my last year of high school on Grape Nuts Cereal and Diet Coke. And Snickers. And voila, the spiral into something I never imagined, not just for myself, but never imagined existed. A metabolic nightmare that ensued for the next ten years. By the time I was 19, I had gone from a regular menstrual cycle to having maybe 3 or 4 per year. I went looking for help, and what was the doctor’s solution? You got it, birth control.

When I was 21 I met the man who was to be my first husband, I remember that preparing for the wedding, when I was 23, I went on a crash diet which involved 2 shakes per day and not a lot else, and I managed to get down to about 53kg, which was the lowest I’d been since I was 15 years old. Slowly the weight crept back up, but by then I felt like I had all of the tools to understand what it took to keep me in a relatively small state (mainly, don’t eat!). I also went off birth control, as we wanted to have a child. I did manage to fall pregnant quite quickly, only to miscarry at 12 weeks. Following that, once again my periods pretty much stopped, and eventually I went to another doctor to try to figure out why. I had massively polycystic ovaries (PCOS). The doctor was emphatic that the only solution was a ‘wedgectomy’ and massive doses of clomiphene to force ovulation. I declined.

Fast forward 5 or 6 years, I’m out of my first marriage and in bliss with my current partner and living in the UK. I was still having irregular periods and turned to IVF – which involved three unsuccessful attempts, and difficult recoveries from each. About this time I started having some major anxiety issues. Looking back on it, this was really the turning point for me and my health. It was suggested that acupuncture might help, and thanks to an amazing 5-element practitioner, I was brought back to some semblance of physical and emotional balance. This experience led me to start reading and exploring alternative approaches to health and well being. Some worked for me, the acupuncture and cranio-sacral therapy, and some didn’t and felt like a waste of money, like reflexology and kinesiology. I was  OK with that – I felt that it was OK to try things even if there is a chance that they won’t work .

My weight was not good. My lovely man is (was) a vegetarian when we met, and naturally I joined him. Lots of pasta, rice, soy, bread. You can guess what happened. Then we went on the macrobiotic diet, and that made things worse, especially for me with mood swings and ‘hanger’… By the millennium, I weighed 68kg. Technically obese for my frame. But why? Wasn’t I doing all the right things? Eating purely? Being aware? Clearly not, but then, another voila moment.

My cousin’s daughter had been diagnosed with PCOS, and prescribed a drug called Metformin. My ears pricked up – there is another treatment besides a wedgectomy??? I went straight to the doctor, who kindly but firmly explained that in the UK he couldn’t possibly prescribe Metformin for anything other than Type II Diabetes. However, the universe (and science) had turned. Literally a few weeks after that I read in the Sunday Times about a doctor in Harley Street, London, who had been successfully treating women with PCOS. I make a booking immediately.

When I walked out of his clinic an hour after I’d walked in, my life had changed forever. Dr. Carey knew about the connection of insulin to PCOS, the condition of hyperinsulinanemia, and was fairly confident that changing my diet to exclude wheat and processed sugar, and 1/2 hour of light walking in the morning would work wonders. I can still see the little graph he showed me about what happened to my blood sugar when I ate carbs, how my metabolism had become broken so that regardless of the amount of insulin I secreted it wasn’t effective at clearing the glucose, and that my PCOS was a manifestation of those elevated levels of insulin.

I got my period the next month. And I have had one EVERY MONTH SINCE. And the weight started to melt off. I accelerated this through buying Dr. Robert Atkins book, and adopting the low carb principles. Throughout the week I would eat low-carb bars, nuts and protein.   On the weekend I would eat ice cream and drink red wine. I spent my last few years in the UK quite happily hovering at between 60-62kg. Not lean, but certainly nowhere near obese. We emigrated to Aotearoa in 2003. Joined the gym, took up snowboarding in the winter, kitesurfing in the summer and tramping regularly; we’d found our ‘place’ for sure.

At the start of 2007, I had started getting serious about my weight lifting and potentially body building.  I decided to find a trainer who ‘got me’ and I wound up working under the tutelage of a Sydney based body building enthusiast (female) for the next 4 years. Over those years, I broke innumerate personal records for lifting heavy things, for testing myself beyond my wildest imagination. That was the good part. The not so good part was the dieting! For those 4 years and beyond, I weighed and measured every morsel that went into my mouth. Within 15 months I went from 60kg and 27% body fat to 52kg and 13% body fat (tested in hydrostatic tank) I looked amazing, but my wonderful husband nearly left me! There is a very, very thin line between commitment and obsession.

Without knowing it, those 4 years set me up for another, even worse metabolic nightmare, but again, one that no one could have predicted or imagined. I was fit, lean (a little bit miserable) and seemingly unstoppable.

Then the earth moved.

I was in Southern Cross Hospital on Bealey Avenue at 12:51 on 22nd February. I was getting ready to be prepped for my procedure, when I was thrown out of my chair and watched the building twist and shift. As anybody who was there knows, that was just the beginning.

Everyone had a different emotional and physical reaction to the earthquakes – some left, some got ill straight away, some got depressed. I just went harder. Action, movement, gotta keep going, gotta help, can’t stop. By July I noticed that I was losing whole chunks of time – it was like I’d suddenly ‘snap back’ to reality, having no idea where I was, what I was doing. This was particularly scary when it happened whilst driving! Then one fateful day I was going hard in Bottle Lake Forest on my mountain bike, and my legs stopped working. I wish I could adequately describe the sensation – it wasn’t cardiovascular in nature, but literally, I could not push my legs around on those pedals. I have no idea how I got home.

I had been avoiding going to the doctor for the other symptoms quite simply because I didn’t have a doctor, as mine was tragically killed in the CTV Building. But I now knew I had to do something, so I contacted a wonderful doctor at the Helios Integrative Medical Centre. Thanks to her, I managed to bring myself back to health over the next 18 months through supplementation (including whole thyroid), relaxed, intuitive eating, and much, much less exercise. My physical journey back to health was celebrated by completing the Oxfam 100km in April 2012.

Post Traumatic Stress is a very real thing, whether or not you label it adrenal collapse. I think that through my experience I had instinctively begun to recognise the power of food as medicine, or at least much more powerful than we give it credit for. It sounds obvious now, but I hadn’t really thought of food as anything but pleasure or fuel. What about as true, deep nourishment?

My real food journey included finding the work of Weston A. Price, and the wonderfulness of Raw Milk. We joined a herd share and started our own fermentation bench – whole milk kefir and yogurt – yum! Having been wheat and gluten free (also corn, which is actually the worst for me) since 2000, I made the further step to becoming grain free in November 2012. I will have sushi as a treat, or the occasional slice of gluten free bread with eggs bennie for brunch out, but overall eliminating grains have been super easy for me.

For the past 18-months or so, my focus has been on real food. I made another discovery – I love lambs liver! I’d never had liver of any description, but now we eat it once a week. I buy organic meat or from the butcher whenever possible, and have so enjoyed the nourishment that meat brings to our bodies. I also make bone broth, kombucha and sauerkraut.

I feel great, healthy, balanced, calm, focused, and as an avid consumer of information I have come across the ketogenic diet but cannot find a lot of information out there for the peri-menopausal woman. Hence, I’m enlisting Mikki’s help for my own great Ketogenic experiment. Given where my health is at now (i.e. not a metabolic mess) it is a good time to try it. (Ketogenic: 80% calories coming from fat; 10-15% protein, 5-10% carbohydrate).

I have just received  a Ketonix electronic breath ketone-measuring device from Sweden to measure ketones (a sign that you are burning fat as your prefential fuel, and not glucose), and my overall goals are:

  • To be in ketosis for these 30 days, as measured by my Ketonix, noting anything and everything about the state and its effect on mood, sleep, energy, etc.
  • To be confident enough at the end of these 30 days to STOP weighing/measuring (the most difficult part of this experiment has been getting my head round going back to that practice)
  • To not lose strength in the gym
  • To become metabolically flexible enough to complete a 4-5 hour endurance training session for a multsport race I’m doing, with no carbs and no ill effects (this is the long term goal; and it isn’t ‘no fuel’ it is ‘no carbs’ – this is a long term goal)

I have not weighed myself at the beginning of this month, but I do have a ‘number’ in mind that I would like to see at the end of it, and I’m really interested to see what happens to my blood cholesterol levels (which were tested in June and will be retested in 8 weeks’ time).

Thanks for reading, and I’d love it if you would follow me on this journey. Mikki will be posting updates regularly on my progress.

Keto update week 4: same old, actually!

Four weeks in…. how do I feel? This morning I could have turned a corner, I had an awesome run. If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said: hard to say – actually the same as what I have the last couple of weeks really. My sleep has been better than ever, other than a couple of nights but I put that down to life events and not diet related. Interestingly, I feel that I’ve started letting myself relax more in some instances. For example, I will come to the end of the day and typically I’m doing client or AUT related work in the evening. However I’ve been better at being disciplined about just going to bed and not thinking that I must finish X, Y, Z before doing so. I don’t necessarily think this has been as a result of the change in eating directly. But I do think that when you’re forced to step out of normal routines and reflect on them, it is hard to isolate it to just one area. And it’s fair to say I’ve been doing a bit of reflection lately on a lot of things. Perhaps that is just a product of that.

My day to day energy has been up and down, but again, I think it’s just that I’ve got a lot going on and it’s the impact of feeling stretched in many different directions. My training has been interesting. I’ve noticed that I seem to feel awesome up until about an hour, therefore probably push it a bit on that hour, then I seem to all of a sudden die. I’m still only doing long runs of up to 90-95 minutes, with a lot of my sessions being 60 minutes or less. That’s a bit of a change too actually. Being an endurance girl, it’s hard to take a step back from that – and 15 years of being hardwired in thinking that ‘the longer the better’ particularly where both fitness and body weight is concerned, this could be the toughest nut of all to crack. It’s right up there with the ‘fat makes you fat’ thinking. And this n=1 experiment is certainly teaching me how absolutely wrong that last statement is. I will always train – my head requires it more than my body does and actually my head often does my body a disservice because of it. But the physical effects of this diet necessitates me to reduce the amount of time spent training. That, combined with other commitments, has meant that I’ve had to be okay with not doing as much. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been as difficult as I imagined.

What is my general diet over this ketogenic experiment?

Breakfast is a mix between a chia/coconut cream/cream pudding with a small piece of fruit (like feijoa), or it’s been eggs (mix of scrambled, omelette – ditching the whites, poached) with added avocado, cheese, some greens. The rhubarb crumble with cream has been a favourite.

Lunch has been salad greens, leftover meat with dressing, nuts, some cheese – watching my protein component carefully, and the overall volume of salad is a lot smaller than it would normally.

Dinner has been a mix of vegetables that have been roasted (i.e. swede chips), mashed (cauliflower), creamed (spinach with creme fraiche), and meat. I was staying with my Dad this week in Dunedin and he loved that I added cream and balsamic vinegar to the mushrooms and bacon we had at dinner. Not a ‘Mikki’ thing to do.

I’ve been snacking on macadamia nuts and cheese, adding cream to coffee. I thought I would be fancy and order a vienna, but I had to explain to a café what a ‘vienna’ coffee was.. FYI, a vienna is whipped cream and cinnamon. However, I suspect that ordering a vienna is akin to ordering a ‘cappuccino’ (i.e. not the choice of serious coffee drinkers) after getting mocked by my friend Ash. My friend Chris put me on to this sugar-free Well Naturally chocolate which I have to say is delicious. I’ve actually avoided products like this for the better part of 18 months, and am not sure why I feel the need for it now. But I do.

So that’s me in a nutshell. I am waiting for the feeling of amazing energy; that has yet to happen despite my ketones being around 1 mmol/L every time I’ve measured them, bar twice, after being hungry and eating too much twice in the evening. I suspect that it’s easy to go out of ketosis in that instance, and have read Peter Attia saying the same thing. On those days I recognised that teaching across two campuses on opposite sides of the city, combined with seeing clients, left me little time to prepare, and I suffered for it. I am measuring these less, though, as I become more confident in my choices to ensure a ketotic state (and more mindful of just how expensive those ketone strips are).

My friend Bee is also undertaking the ketogenic experiment. Bee is an amazing athlete who has seen considerable success in Ironman over the last few years, taking some time out right now to focus on her career. Out of the five friends that I hit up, she was the one that dived in boots and all. I asked her a few questions three weeks into it to see how she was feeling.

1.      I know I asked you to do this (keto) but what made you give it a go?

Firstly, I’ve been following the inspiring Bevan McKinnon’s Fatman Ironman campaign over the last couple of years (beginning with the disaster that occurred last year, to the turnaround performance at Ironman New Zealand 2014), and reading his blog on Fitter Facebook page sparked some interest. It makes sense to me, and I want to feel like that when I race again!

And I’m curious. I am a carb burner. I have a high carb diet and when training and racing I relied heavily on carbs, sweet yummy triple caffeinated chocolate bomb power gels (from the health food stores of course!). I almost believe I won’t be able to change energy sources and burn fat, it’s too different. So I am keen to see what can happen.

2.      What is a typical day’s food prior to keto?

When the news first started to trickle through that fat was now ‘ok’ I was stoked and I celebrated with the re-introduction of butter, cream and full fat meats into my diet… but I was the typical mainstream observer and didn’t really cut out many carbs or sugar treats, other than switching cereals to pumpkin / root vegetables for breakfast (yes weird), and from sandwiches to wraps for lunch. Dinners were typically meat/fish and vegetables.  I would eat frequent but smaller servings of chocolate and cakes or sweets each day, I have/ or more so I had a seemingly uncontrollable sweet tooth. When I was a kid I used to want to own a lolly shop when I grew up so that I could have endless supplies of sweet goodness.

3.      What is a typical day’s food now on keto?

Lots of good yummy foods. Breakfast is a variation of eggs, coconut cream, cheese and vegetables. I have them as omelettes, scrambled, or using mushroom or avocado instead of toast.

Lunch is a salad with leafy greens and salad vegetables, protein could be smoked salmon or smoked chicken, eggs or just macadamia nuts. All mixed with cheese and garlic infused oil, tahini or aioli.

Dinner meat and vegetables (dependent on carb allowance) and cheese and oils.

I’m loving the food choices and have not been eating any sugar or sweeteners, I haven’t wanted to.

4.      What have been the main challenges to changing to a keto diet? (energy, appetite, sleep, training …)

The diet itself is surprisingly really easy to follow, I’ve been weighing food where possible and while a little annoying, it’s not the end of the world.  When I’m out I just do the best I can with what’s available, I’m not going to take this so far that the diet prevents a meal out.

The biggest challenge has been in my running and I’m finding it pretty annoying. I have slowed down a lot, I’m missing the extra gear I used to have. I can’t keep up with my usual running pals, forcing them to do hill repeats so I can catch them up (good to see them suffer though). On many runs I’ve wanted to throw the towel in and just eat a damned sandwich. But this is just part of the experiment to see if this carb burner can change.

5.      What, if any, benefits have you seen in the three weeks since going keto?

I don’t eat sugar. I don’t think about sugar. I admit I still walk into a café and drool at the sweet goodness of cakes and cronuts, but I don’t finish a meal and think hmmm a bit of chocolate would go down well right now.  If you could only understand what a change this is for me, if I gain anything from this change in diet the shift from sugar is more than enough. Happy days.

Keto diet update: week 2.

I wasn’t going to post again about my ketogenic experiment. Well, not immediately. However after getting 28 more followers of my blog in the last week, I figured that perhaps this was something people were interested in hearing more about. It makes sense. A ketogenic diet is the extreme version of a low carbohydrate diet. And when you combine the words ‘diet’ and ‘extreme’ in reference to an eating pattern, then that’s bound to spark some interest. Think ‘magic bullet’ It’s like Beyonce endorsing the lemon detox diet. Except she likely received a hefty payout for the pleasure of losing 9 kg in 7 days (to then gain it all back… but who’s counting?) I’m still waiting on my cheque. Not sure who to contact, however. Within the last week I have delved further into the information I have around what constitutes a ketogenic diet. How much of what we read on the internet is in fact ‘ketogenic’ and how much is someone’s misinterpretation of it?

For example, there are a few websites that provide information on the ratio of carbohydrate (CHO) and protein to fat that you should aim for when adopting a ketogenic diet. This keto calculator here gives a good overview of the information that should potentially be taken into account when providing structure to the diet. I used this as a starting point with regards to CHO and protein, and adjusted the fat grams per day so the end result wasn’t a hefty calorie deficit leading to unwanted weight loss. However, as that is the end goal for a good number of people, it will provide some idea of the macronutrient totals. On that note, there is a misconception that you can eat fat ‘ad lib’ and you will lose weight or – at the very least – not gain it. That’s just not the case. I know many people who have dabbled in ketosis and have not been successful with their desire to lose weight, whereas others have found the weight has literally dropped off. Of course, as ketogenic diets are the extreme end of a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet, there are many people who have lost weight just by opting to include more real food in their diet and have spontaneously eaten less due to the higher satiety factor, without the need to meticulously count macronutrient grams, weigh food portions or think twice before eating out.  This can be a source of frustration for others who have committed to doing all of the aforementioned but have not had the same experience. I did wondered if part of this is to do with the macronutrient ratios – that their protein and/or CHO grams are too high to truly get into ketosis and enable the body to adapt to burning fat. I emailed Stephen Phinney – one of the world’s experts in the ketogenic diet and co-founder of the Art and Science of Low Carb – a website where you can find information on the research he has conducted and the books he has authored with Jeff Volek and Eric Westman. His response?

The simple answer is that if your ketones are above 0.5 mM and after a meal you are satiated (while keeping protein in the area of 1.5 g/kg), then you have got your diet right.  Rather than trying to prescribe fat intake in grams or ratios, it works best to eat fat to satiety.  In this regard, it is important to recognize and manage ‘fat hunger’ by having high fat items available so that one is not tempted to over-eat protein.

And that makes sense -so potentially it has less to do with the ratios as a rule, however they are the starting point for some people and could help if they are having trouble regulating their protein intake. For some, however, merely recommending they eat fat to ‘satiety’ is too difficult for them to put into practice successfully and still lose weight. It is entirely possible to get into ketosis and have blood ketones above the 0.5 mM that illustrates they are being used as the predominant fuel source. However, the amount of fat consumed is in excess of what they need, and the fat that is used for energy is provided by the diet, therefore there is no physiological requirement for burning body fat. Frustratingly, despite meticulously counting macronutrient ratios, watching protein portions and being mindful of situations that could blow them out of ketosis, those jeans are not getting any looser.

While managing fat hunger is the key, it’s really difficult for some to recognise their fat hunger – as this is relying more on the physiological signals sent by the body in response to the food eaten. For many people, the hormones responsible (insulin and leptin being the predominant ones) are either disrupted due to poor metabolic health and/or being overridden in the context of the food environment they have been exposed to for most of their life. The food choices that have been part of a ‘healthy, balanced diet’ have constituents that drive appetite and feed into our food/reward system in the brain that extend far beyond our physiological needs. Couple that with ingrained behaviour whereby we must eat what is in front of us, it is rude to decline a piece of home made cake, and those around us comment on what we choose to eat or not to eat, it is no wonder many people have lost touch with their true appetite.

As with any change in diet, it’s such a good time to assess the effects of those environmental cues on your own appetite and adjust where necessary. Serving smaller portions is a great start when following a ketogenic diet, as fat is naturally more satiating. Chewing food properly and finishing a mouthful is also key. For some, putting their knife and fork down in between bites is a good way to do this. Eating without distractions is often recommended, though some can read/browse the internet while still being mindful of their food intake – so use your honest judgement here.

I’m also learning a lot about my own dietary habits and how a change in eating has affected other things. In no particular order, these include:

1. For the first time in memory I’ve been consistently sleeping through the night. I mentioned this last week but in the last seven days I’ve slept through the night on all but one occasion. I put this down to a reduction in vegetables that I’ve been eating. Don’t go thinking I’m vegetable free – at ALL! I’d easily meet the 5-a-day recommendation for me, you and that person who sitting over there on a normal day. Now I’d probably just meet mine and yours. This reduction in water means I’m no longer getting up in the middle of the night and despite the fact that humans likely didn’t sleep throughout the night back in paleolithic times, I’m loving the uninterrupted sleep I’m getting.

2. While I was meticulously weighing my food portions in the first 10 days, I’ve reached a point where it’s easy for me to eyeball amounts. I have eaten out a few times over the holiday period, stayed at a friend’s house for three nights and maintained my ketone levels between 0.7 mM and 3.9 mM.

3. Training hasn’t been that bad, aside from an almost repeat of last Friday’s run. This time it was on trails and I knew within two minutes it was going to be a long 90 minutes. I believe this was down to dehydration actually – my heart rate shot up immediately, then settled, though was still a hard run. There has been a slight decrease in strength for my weight training also. However I’m a bit slack on that front so there are obviously confounding variables (as with all of this…) These have been offset by some awesome sessions too.

4. Throughout the day my energy levels drop off markedly – more than usual I believe. I think this will change as I adapt. I understand, according to Steve Phinney, that it can take up to 12 weeks for that to occur. Perhaps this is longer than a four week experiment.

5. Peter Attia, The Eating Acadamy, is a WEALTH of information – the posts are just the start of it. He is amazing with his responses in the comments sections and I’m learning a lot there. Go over and check it out if at all interested.

6. It took about a 10 day period to get my head around the smaller portions and that they would be filling enough. The reason why I ate so many vegetables is down to being a calorie-counter for over half of my life. As vegetables are low energy, nutrient dense, I relied on them to fill me up. This clearly goes hand in hand with the ingrained dietary fat phobia for the same time period and my tertiary education in nutrition. If you think it’s hard to get your head around a high fat diet, try having the nutrition qualification at the same time. THAT is a challenge ;). Whilst I’ve made massive dietary shifts over the last 18 months, this experiment has been as much about what I’d experience psychologically as it has been physically. I have read the science that clearly shows fat doesn’t make you fat. I tell people on a daily basis that fat doesn’t make them fat. I have had clients and friends who have upped their fat intake (within and outside of the ketogenic diet) and have seen them improve or maintain an already good body composition throughout. Perhaps for some, seeing that with their own eyes would be convincing enough. It wasn’t for me. However, after 13 days on a ketogenic diet, one kilogram down from when I started,

7. Fat – from between 130g – 200g per day depending on the day, in the form of cream, nuts, low carb desserts, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, cheese, coconut cream – is not making me fat.