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.

Another mindset shift: (lack of) training for the marathon.

Another marathon ticked off. And this is the first one that I’ve completed as an LCHF athlete. More than that though, it’s the first one I’ve raced on a smaller training load than I thought I needed. And while I say ‘oh, I don’t race’ – in reality, when I step up to the start line and the gun goes off, I am racing. It’s a race against the clock and myself, and not the people around me, though I did earmark one dude on the start line as my nemesis that I wanted to take down – and this had nothing to do with his running ability.  This was purely because he was in a tutu and as soon as I saw him I thought ‘there’s no way I’m letting anyone in a skirt, guy or girl, beat me.’ Rational? Obviously not.

I entered the Queenstown marathon at the start of the year purely because the early bird deal was so good. As a new event, they took $50 off the entry fee for the marathon and, like anyone who likes a bargain*, that was enough for me to sign on the dotted line. Inevitably, though, life and limb gets in the way of any decent build up period for a race and more often than not I’m left with 8-10 weeks to go and starting to panic that I’m not going to have the time for an adequate preparation period. Now any coach would look at that length of time and say that it was ridiculous to think it wasn’t enough time. Physically, of course it is – particularly as it’s not like I’m going from a couch potato to my first marathon; I’ve been running for over 20 years. Psychologically though: different story. Particularly when your compatriots are 6 -8 weeks into their 16 week build plan for an event and ticking off 8-10 km intervals on a Saturday, backed up with a 2h 15min run on a Sunday and I’m high fiving people for completing a 40 min easy run without any nagging sensation in the calf. I’m obviously excited to be running, but daunted by what is ahead in terms of ‘making up’ lost kilometres to get me on an even par with other runners of my ability. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a good race before you’ve even begun to train for it. I know I do. And, even when you do train for it, how many people do you know line up on the start-line with either a niggle, a virus, or lack of preparation to blame their less than ideal finish time on?  Not only do I battle with knowing that others have been able to consistently run at a time where I’ve only been able to do gym work and some swim sessions, but my main problem is that I have a fear of failure. This has been the hardest thing to let go of over the last few years – the expectations that I perceive others have of me and my running ability.  In some ways not having the ideal race build up let me off the hook; it’s a legitimate reason for running slower than others think I’m capable of – and just finishing the race is good enough. Bevan, though, didn’t let me off that easy. He guided my training for the Queenstown marathon and was adamant that 8 weeks was adequate to get me in pretty good shape to get around.

Previously, I would have tried to cram in as much running with intensity as I could tolerate, with a couple of rest days per week, so I would build my fitness faster that way. Bevan had a different approach. He pointed out that whenever I get injured in the past, it is from the combination of both longer runs plus interval training which places too much stress on my body. Hmm… good point. He predicted that, if I were to include intensity along with duration in my build up, I would break down at roughly 4-6 weeks in, leaving me in a spectator role come race day, as it has in the past. Needless to say, that put the kibosh on my grandiose plans of the interval/long run double that is the mainstay of any running programme. Instead, he suggested that I needed to focus on frequency. Just run. Everyday. The length of the runs varied from 25 minutes to 2h, and while I would lift the pace on some runs, there were no set tempo sessions, hill repeats or one kilometre intervals. It was just running. Part of me loved it – telling a runner that they can run everyday is like letting a sugar addict loose in a candy store. In addition to that, while I LOVE running, I actually really don’t like running those 2 1/2 – 3h runs which are another mainstay of a running programme. They to me are almost the necessary evil of marathon build-ups that sap your reserves, leave you feeling broken and ancient for the rest of the day, but at the same time almost perversely thrilled that you’ve ticked off the big miles that distinguish you from that half marathoner runner.**   A big part of me though was anxious that this preparation would leave me short on race day. How was I supposed to get around 42.2km when I hadn’t run for longer than 2h on any long run?

But I listened dutifully to what Bevan told me, switching it up a bit with my pace – some days it was closer to 6 min kilometer pace, something I would never have considered doing in the past but had become almost worryingly easy to do now. Others we would run a steady 20 minutes at around 4.40 kilometer pace as part of our long run. But, bar one run that was around 2.04 and in hideous weather at a hideously slow pace, I never went beyond those guidelines. I got up every morning and ran, once a week was 2h, once a week was 80 min and the rest were between 25-60 minutes – and, as Bevan said, I made it to the start line in one piece. And while I still wasn’t convinced that I had run long enough in any long run to get through the event and feel okay, you know what? I did. Other than that inevitable dip that occurs in ‘no mans land’ from around 27-32 kilometers, I felt comfortable, strong, I paced it pretty well (the second half was four minutes quicker than the first) and came in at 3.28 and some change. It’s not my fastest – actually it’s slower than my PB by 37 minutes, but I felt awesome. That I made it to the start line and finished in one piece on such a spectacular course are three wins in my book. As a runner, I love to be able to run and I think this approach will allow me to do that. This has provided me with the ‘proof’ I need that I don’t need to do the extra long training runs to successfully complete (and run pretty well) in an event. This is a massive shift from days of old, and the runner mentality. My goal in running these days isn’t to aim for another PB; I don’t have the mental energy required to do that, nor do I want to. I just want to be able to run, enjoy it, participate, push myself and enjoy the afterglow of a run well run. Who knew that you didn’t need to run hard and long to do that? This might not be a major for another runner – but for me it is almost as much of a mind shift as the LCHF approach to marathon training. Stoked to have made it.

PS The guy in the tutu totally took me out – so did another very talented woman runner in a Lululemon running skirt. At the risk of making myself wildly unpopular, I am not a fan of the ruffled skirt number.

*aka any runner because as a group we are known for being frugal – though anyone who runs will testify that it ISN’T a cheap sport

** no disrespect intended. I love half marathoner runners. In fact some of my best friends are half marathoners. 

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.

Not tonight, honey. I’m exhausted.

Have you heard the term ‘ironman widow’? Where someone’s husband (or wife) is basically invisible for the better part of 12 weeks as they prepare for an upcoming race. This not only relates to being physically present (which is diminished when the training time is upwards of 15-20h a week) but also ‘present’ when at home. Often exhaustion sets in, particularly nearer the end of the week or after a heavy training day, where the mere thought of moving from the couch is akin to another 6h ride. Sex? Don’t even go there. It’s a fairly common (yet usually unspoken) phenomenon that rolling around in the sack is off the agenda in the lead up to the event. And I’m not talking about the day before an event; it’s more like as a general rule because they are too damn tired. Does this sound familiar? Yes, being tired is a natural (and expected) part of the training cycle – however, much as we talk about adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance in women – this is not an uncommon occurrence in men. It’s just not often talked about.

When we talk hormones, I know that I’m guilty of just addressing women. You know – the stress hormones, thyroid hormones and sex hormones. However men are not exempt from the debilitating effects of overdoing it. Just as a ‘rushed’ lifestyle can affect the thyroid and sex hormones in women (including testosterone), men who undertake endurance sport are at risk of poor testosterone status.

Testosterone: a sex hormone (also present in women too) is a chemical messenger. It declines as we age, and some studies have found a that testosterone levels for a male in their late 30s are down by as much as 50 % on the levels that were present in their 20s. Just as oestrogen is controlled by the hypothalamus, it is the same for testosterone; when the hypothalamus detects a deficiency of testosterone in the blood, it secretes a hormone called gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GRH). This is detected by the pituitary gland that in response starts producing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These travel to the testes where testosterone is produced from cholesterol by the leydig cells with just a small amount produced by the adrenal glands. It’s then sent back into the blood stream and either attaches to sex hormone binding protein (SHBG) and becomes biologically inert, or remains free in the bloodstream.  Normal levels are between 300 ng/dl – 1200 ng/dl (10.41)-41.64 ng/dL. The three types of testosterone you might see reported are:

  • Total testosterone- As the name implies, it’s how much testosterone available and is the sum of free and bound testosterone.
  • Free testosterone is the most biologically active form of testosterone. Free but low biologically active test and therefore still have signs/symptoms of overall low testosterone.
  • Bound testosterone-This is the testosterone bound to the protein Sex Hormone Binding Protein (or Globulin) (SHBP/SHBG). A high amount of SHBG will usually indicate a low free testosterone.

Testosterone is not just important for reproduction and sex drive – it has a number of other roles including supporting bone mass, regulating fat distribution, muscle size and strength and red blood cell production. If you are a typical endurance athlete who tends to push themselves and have had stress fractures that can’t be put down to a lack of calcium, it could well be that low testosterone is a contributing factor. As we know, testosterone increases during training and contributes to overall energy levels; a low production of testosterone contributes to the fatigue that can be felt under a heavy training load, making someone feel worse than they should. It’s difficult though, to know what is a normal byproduct of a heavy training load (because, let’s face it, endurance sport requires longer and harder training than, say, golf). Below are some common signs and symptoms of low testosterone.

  • Decreased/absent early morning erection
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Loss of facial or pubic hair
  • Testicular atrophy
  • Low bone mineral density/fractures
  • Night sweats

Phew! That’s not you? Well, you may not be out of the woods just yet. Less specific (or earlier signs) include:

  • Decreased energy or motivation
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • Moody
  • Reduce muscle/increased fat mass
  • Reduced performance

You can see that the early signs of a reduced testosterone level could be summed up by being a bit ‘tired’ and are fairly non-specific. The best way to know what is going on with your testosterone is to get it tested through your doctor (noting that the free testosterone is the important measure).

Thankfully there is plenty you can do with your diet to ensure you’re optimising your ability to produce testosterone without getting a prescription for the pharmaceutical type. Unsurprisingly, these come down to pretty much what I write about on a weekly basis:

  • Ensure adequate vitamin D – this is involved in the production of the corticosteroid hormones and it’s important we have enough available to support the production of our thyroid, stress and sex hormones. Food sources are full fat dairy products, a small amount in butter, liver, animal protein and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. Taking a supplement (that also contains vitamin K2) is warranted for a large part of the year in New Zealand, but particularly as we come out of winter and into spring, where the UVB rays are diminished and we’ve been spending the vast majority of time inside on the windtrainer to dodge the weather.
  • Ensure adequate zinc intake (through oysters and animal protein, and brazil nuts too) – a note here is that iron can reduce our overall ability to absorb zinc, and this may need to be looked at if you’re taking an iron supplement.
  • Ensure adequate selenium intake (seafood, Brazil nuts) and vitamin A (full fat dairy products, liver, eggs, animal protein)
  • Saturated and monounsaturated fat: Again, most of the foods mentioned above are good sources of saturated fat in the diet, and monounsaturated fat is found predominantly in olive oil, eggs, avocado and raw nuts. The reality is, all fats contain the range of fatty acids we need, and are labelled ‘saturated’ or ‘monounsaturated’ fats due largely to the amount they contain. Coconut oil (which has had some bad press of late, despite a lack of evidence of a relationship to heart disease) is particularly rich in saturated fat.
  • Cholesterol: another important co-factor in the creation of the sex hormones, and forms the backbone of these. Foods of animal origin help supply dietary cholesterol for this role. If you’re someone who has followed a low fat diet or vegetarian diet and has a low cholesterol level, then potentially your testosterone could be lower than ideal.
  • Ensure adequate B vitamins and magnesium also (present in the foods mentioned above and in abundance in vegetables).

Finally – on the life side of things: sleep more, ensure adequate recovery from training and have more sex. That will increase your testosterone.