By Matt Stone
Recently I received a couple requests to write something up on how to protect one’s metabolic health as an endurance athlete. It’s an interesting question, as the adaptations the human body undergoes to better?perform endurance exercise are in exact opposition with the metabolic objectives of this site (discussed in greater detail in THIS POST?and others).
To be a successful endurance athlete and experience big breakthroughs in performance, it requires a reduced heart rate (so?you can go faster at lower heart rates and sustain an elevated heart rate for longer periods), a reduced body temperature (so you can exercise for hours without?your body temperature going too high), reduced muscle and bone mass (lighter load’to carry?mile after mile – also less?wear and tear), and a reduction in energy allocated to other functions (such as sex, immunity, wound healing, blood circulation, and so forth).
No you can’t have it all. You’ll never see’someone wake up and win a powerlifting competition, have a snack, and then go and win a marathon later that day.?They are’two totally different types of skills, and are the result of two totally different types of physical adaptations to?a training stimulus.
Having said that,?most, myself included, would like to believe that there is a happy middle ground where your endurance performance goes up and your metabolic?rate, while downregulating itself to compensate somewhat for the task, does so with minimal negative symptoms (such as chronic coldness, infertility, osteopenia, hair loss, sarcopenia/muscle wasting, and so on). And there probably is. It involves eating unfathomable amounts of calories and carbohydrates.
Yesterday I asked?CJ of www.couch2ultra.com – former low-carber and Paleophile, if he could’share some of his insights as he is one of the?only endurance athletes I’m aware of that is very metabolism-conscious. Here is what he had to share, and a recent photo as he prepares for the?upcoming Kona Marathon on June 23rd (I think that’s what he’s running in next).
“Yes I eat between 700-1,500 [grams of] carbs per day. I average probably around 1,000, but would eat more if I had enough time to do so. Just for kicks after you tweeted me this morning, I decided to get a fasting (about 10 hours) blood glucose reading. 92 mg/dL immediately upon getting out of bed. Guess I haven’t gotten the beetus after doing this for 3 years now ;) My dinner was maybe 350g carbs mostly from bananas and non-fat milk.
The last time I checked my BG was a few months ago after like a 10 banana smoothie with a 1/2 cup of brown sugar. 90 minutes post smoothie I believe the reading was 78 mg/dL. My body must have released too much of that pesky insulin in anticipation of a 15 banana smoothie ;) Insulin release does happen pre-ingestion. I have tested this as well, but that’s a whole other topic.
So, I was so effective at speeding my metabolism, that I actually got too hot. So, here’s the thing… I’m an endurance athlete. Admittedly I’m not a chronic temp checker, but most of the morning checks I did do were somewhere around 97.5. Yes I know that’s still low, but I live in Kona, Hawaii brah. It’s hot here, and I was always a ball of sweat. I sleep with nothing (or at the most 1 sheet), and am still sweaty. I also raised my resting heart rate from around 54bpm to always over 70bpm, and if I even thought about so much as walking, it went to 80-100. My max heart rate seemed to increase in step. I saw it hit as high as 219 during workouts.
Eating for metabolism did affect performance and weight. I did get stronger and did gain weight. Roughly 20lbs. The high heart rate and hot body had me feeling a little on the fatigued side during exercise, despite a lower training load.
While trying to raise my heart rate and’temps, I ate a lot of semi-processed sugars like cane/brown sugar, molasses and honey. More coconut oil. Haagen Dazs was a love, and I also did more starches. Corn masa for baking, sweet potatoes, rice, cooked bananas, and even daily footlongs from Subway with cookies and soda. I knew starches would put weight on me, because starches always do. Didn’t much care. I knew the heavy cals would pack on some strong beef too :)
Race time…. I had a couple 1/2 Ironman races on the horizon, so I had to make some changes. I needed my body to run cooler (because the races are in 100+ degree temps) and I also needed my heart to come down so I don’t burn up so quickly. The exercise already increases my metabolic rate and I wasn’t going to stop doing the workouts, so I had to go back to what I know.
Veggies and fruit. Anyone who knows me, already knows I preach the superiority of fruit over starch for energy. They don’t even compare as far as I’m concerned. But the switch to only fruit based carbs weren’t pulling the heart or temps back down. Enter veggies. More specifically uncooked greens. Three benefits to these… they’re anti-thyroid (bringing it back to normal LOL), they lower the glycemic load of the fruits even lower (burning fat like a blowtorch), and energy increases. I suspect that since I blend most of the greens into oblivion with a Vitamix, my gut may be able to produce butyric acid (short chain fats) for energy not unlike our gorilla buddies who have longer digestive tracks. Of course I’ve not looked into this at all, it just seemed like something plausible I cooked up in my pea brain.
Anyway, in just a matter of a few months, this food palette shift has dropped my HR back down into the high 50s. I’m breaking PBs at will, not sweating like a hog, still using only one sheet, and easily continuing to lean up eating as much fruits and veggies as I can :) The 20lbs came off and still falling. I’m not vegan or anything. I still eat eggs, gelatin, a little seafood, and some dairy. I’m actually going to have to start increasing my fats again and drinking a gallon of milk every day probably starting next month so I don’t whittle away to a toothpick.
So, I guess in summary… A year of face stuffing did what I wanted it to, but was too effective. The result isn’t a perfect match for my lifestyle and environment. I’m keeping my “Eating for Heat” in moderation, like killing a jumbo pizza or a Mauna Kea sized stack of pancakes to “every once in a while” :)
For amateur athletes, I think face stuffing (nutrient rich foods) will do many of them good. Many have disordered thinking and eating, like “dieting” while training and other things than kill metabolism and health. Performance will come with health. Be patient. And last but not least… if you have been on a low-carb diet anytime in recent history, get started right away!”
More on the amount of carbohydrates required to prevent overtraining’symptoms from setting in HERE. You can see there that 1000 grams of carbohydrates daily is far from overkill, but is a quantity that is scientifically established as being required’to fully replenish glycogen levels after serious exercise.If you are looking for specific marathon, triathlon, or ultramarathon nutrition tips – just eat as much?fruit (preferably tropical fruits -the sweetest and most calorie-dense), dried fruit,?other carby foods like rice, bagels, potatoes, etc., syrups, sugars,?and juices as you can possibly stomach.