It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what this post is about, so let me start with a little back-story before diving into the details. This is a long post, but if you stick with me, it might change your life.
If you've been following me for a little while, you know that I'm in the midst of training for an ultra-marathon: the JFK 50-Mile on November 18th. I had originally intended to share this post AFTER that race, but the success I've been experiencing has been too extraordinary to wait. So here goes:
I've been an advocate of a high-fat, low sugar lifestyle for some time now. But as a runner, I have also always depended on a healthily high-carb diet to fuel my miles. By "healthily high-carb", I mean that I don't include processed foods containing added-sugars; but did include sprouted grains, fruits, potatoes, and other high-starch veggies. I also thought I needed high-sugar fuels DURING long distance runs, such as gatorade, gels, fruits, and energy chews. Carbs are your source of energy, right? And you have to constantly refuel your sugars to power your muscles, right? Wrong.
Think about it for a second. Your body isn't really designed for constant feeding. In fact, easy-access to an abundance of food (let alone sugary and high-carb food) is a VERY new thing for our species and our society: Access to fruits and veggies from all over the world, not just the region you live in... refrigeration that allows foods to keep longer... preservatives... all new, and all first-world luxuries.
About two months ago, my husband started a Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, and started seeing great results with it. I loved seeing his progress, and encouraged his changes, because I truly believe in the importance of high-fat. But I couldn't do it myself, I'm a distance runner, I need more carbs. Right?
I started doing some research (and there is quite a bit out there) about the benefits of a low carb, high fat diet for endurance athletes. Dr. Phil Maffetone (philmaffetone.com) is one of the pioneers of this method. So is Dr. Mark Cucuzzella (healthyrunning.org), a local (to me) family practice doctor, natural-running store owner, race director, and highly accomplished distance runner. I was already familiar with the basics of the Maffetone Method, but then I listened to a recent podcast from Dr. Mark all about FAT-ADAPTED endurance training, how it's revolutionized his own running, and his experience with his patients and runners. It all started to click. (Here's a link to that podcast if you're interested: http://marathontrainingacademy.com/nutrition-dr-mark-cucuzzella)
Here's the short of it... Carbs are not a sustainable source of energy. You can only store a roughly 90-minute supply of glycogen in your muscles, and that's it. You're out. Unless you eat more. But FAT, you have a nearly unlimited supply! No offense intended... here's the math:
A lean person, such as myself, carries roughly 16-17% body fat (at my fittest). I weigh somewhere in the vicinity of 125lbs. Meaning that at minimum, I am carrying around 20 pounds of fat. EACH pound of fat contains roughly 3,500calories. That means that at any given time, I have 70,000 calories of available energy to burn, without ingesting a single bite of food. (That translates to roughly 700 miles my body could travel before it runs out of fat to burn.) And that's just ME, a short, small, lean, person. An obese person could be carrying 30%, 40%, 50% or MORE body fat.
Now, by constantly feeding carbs, even healthy carbs, into our system, we've trained our bodies to use the quickest-accessible energy source for fuel. We've become dependent, and don't ALLOW our systems to even tap into our fat-stores.
By decreasing carb intake, and increasing fat intake, we can train our bodies to become FAT-ADAPTED. To access those fat stores for energy, rather than relying on carbs. And wouldn't you know it, when your body learns how to do that, you don't have to feed it constantly. You can run on a combination of your own stored body fat, and less frequent meals. AND NOT BE HUNGRY.
Now, I understand all of the WHY behind this concept, but this is still new to me, and I am still learning the HOW as I go. Next week, I have the privilege of attending a continuing education conference with both Dr. Maffetone and Dr. Cucuzzella, and I'm so excited to learn, absorb, and share more with you. In the meantime, here's what I'm doing personally, and the results I'm seeing:
Remember, I was already on the high-fat train, so my day to day dietary changes were not drastic, but my run-fueling was.
About a month ago, I cut all grains, fruit, and starchy carbs from my diet (that includes Ezekiel bread, potatoes, popcorn, etc.). My diet was already free of added-sugars and I've been alcohol-free since the end of August, so I didn't need to eliminate anything else. My fat intake increased slightly, by substituting my salty popcorn snack for salty nut and seed snacks. I stopped feeling guilty if I wasn't hungry and skipped a meal, and instead listened to my body, and ate when I was hungry. That meant I skipped breakfast pretty much every day. I had coffee with heavy cream (my usual), and a light greens drink made with dehydrated spinach powder, lemon juice, water and ice.
If I plan to run 10 miles or more in the morning, I am taking 1 scoop of UCAN super starch 30-60 minutes before my run to give my muscles some gas to get started, without spiking my blood sugar.
I'm typically not hungry until lunchtime, if then. Most frequently, I'm eating leafy greens for lunch, with plenty of olive oil, canola oil, and/or avocado. I'll add some eggs if I'm really hungry. Sometimes I'm not even hungry for lunch, and I might have a kombucha or another cup of coffee, but not feel the need for a "meal".
At dinner, I'm focusing on high-fat sources of protein such as beef roast, dark meat chicken and turkey, ground beef, bacon. I eat a ton of veggies with dinner as well; typically asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, spinach, kale, or brussels sprouts, all well-coated in butter or oil. On occasion, if I've had a heartier lunch, I'm not hungry for dinner, and I'll snack on some nuts or some of the veggies I make for the family, without having a full meal.
Throughout the entire day, I am drinking tons of water. The more hydrated you are, the easier it is for your body to tap into fat-burning mode.
My own food choices are certainly not the limit of your options for fat-adapted eating, they're just my personal taste preferences. For a more inclusive list of nutrient dense, low carb foods, check out Dr. Tim Noakes' Green List here: http://www.thenoakesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Green-List.pdf
In the past 3 consecutive weeks, my run training has topped 80-miles per week every week. Within those three weeks, I have run 10x 13-15 milers, 2x 30-32 milers, and 3x 22-26 milers. And to be honest I've felt SO good that my mileage has only stopped there because of the time constraints of family and work. EVERY run since I started fat-adaptation has gotten progressively better, with this past weekend most certainly being the peak (so far), but I'm not done yet.
This past weekend, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon as a training run for my upcoming ultramarathon. The day before, I ran an easy 15-miler with a friend. Rather than increasing my carb intake that day as I normally would, I had 2 coffees with heavy cream throughout the day, 1 bottle of G.T.'s kombucha, 1 1/2 Chipotle bowls (Fajita veggies, chicken, tomato, guac, sour cream, and lettuce), and 1 apple with half a jar (yes literally) of peanut butter. On the morning of the race, I drank my usual coffee with heavy cream, spinach greens with lemon juice drink, and UCAN drink on the drive down to DC. I packed 1 water bottle with a 1/2 tablet of Nuun for the race itself, so that I had electrolytes for the hot day ahead. I ran several miles before the race, and then set off at a relaxed pace for the 26.2 distance. Temperatures rose quickly throughout the morning, and I finished my Nuun water bottle by the halfway mark, and then switched to using just plain water at the water stops. With the exception of walking through a couple water stops at the end, to be sure I adequately hydrated, I ran negative splits across the marathon (meaning I got faster, rather than slower) without trying. And I finished the race tired, but ready to run more miles. And I did. No sugar. No carbs. Just water and electrolytes and my own fat stores as fuel.
I took a rest day on Monday, following the race, and then I ran 12 more miles on Tuesday feeling no residual soreness or fatigue, 10 more on Wednesday, and 14 more on Thursday. And guys, I'm not running slow. As my body has adapted to burning fat as fuel, I've watched my paces drop faster than they have been over the better part of the past year. With less effort. The daily aches and pains I used to think were just part of being a distance runner, are GONE. I don't step on a scale (like, ever), but I feel lighter on my feet, and have received comments from others that I look smaller and leaner. My energy is higher than ever, despite all the miles I'm running, and my mood can best be described as "on cloud 9"!
There are plenty of LCHF/fat-adapted nay-sayers out there, but I am a living breathing example of it's success. So is my husband. And my family. I have not "just always been healthy". This does not come easily for me. I grew up in a low-fat household on cereal, bread, pasta, and soda. And that was my lifestyle for my first 26 years. It wasn't until I moved in with my husband 7 years ago that I learned the importance of dietary fat. It wasn't until just over two years ago that I learned the importance of eliminating excess sugars. At 33 years old, I don't have all the answers and I have plenty more to learn. But I am seeing extraordinary success with this new fat-adapted lifestyle and training. I'm entering my mid-thirties looking better, getting stronger, running faster and further, and with all the energy I need for myself, my family, and my business.
If you're not fully satisfied with how you look, feel, or perform, maybe it's time for you to make some changes too. You can't keep doing what you've always done and expecting different results. If you want to different results, you have to try a different approach.
This isn't just for ultra-endurance athletes. My husband is a 6-foot, 225-pound man with a sedentary office job and a love of hard and heavy strength training. He works out no more than 30-minutes, 4-5 days a week. He is seeing even more success and change than I am. Is this for everyone? Yes, it can be. In fact, a lot of the information out there describes this approach to nutrition as ideal for sedentary folks! YOU have a virtually endless supply of energy just sitting on your body right now, waiting to be used.
If you're intrigued, follow my More Miles Clean Living page on Facebook (linked below) to ask questions, see what I'm consuming on a daily basis, and see how others are applying these principals to their own lives. Read the linked information I've shared, do a little of your own research, and give it a try.
Your life literally revolves around your health, and your health develops from your nutrition. So take charge of it, and start living better! Most people have NO IDEA how good their body is SUPPOSED to feel, but you CAN!