Thursday, February 18, 2016

What Happens When an Athlete Goes Paleo Shortly Before A Race?

"Bronco Billy", as he calls himself, decided to go Paleo 7 weeks before a 100 mile ultra-marathon.  I would have suggested to him that this was not a wise decision, as adaptation to a low-carb diet can take some time, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for a poor outcome.  Here's what happened.

"The first week was horrible. I was lethargic, moody, and my workouts sucked. My kids were not hip to Dad’s new grouchy shortcomings. My body was deep in carb detox, starved of my normal intake of sugar, caffeine, and rice and potatoes. My body needed time to adapt to new fat-optimized pathways. I took my carb intake down to 15% of my daily intake, mostly from fresh veggies, about 20% protein from good natural meat sources, while upping my fat intake to 65%."

The reaction is not surprising, this is what's known as the "Atkins-" or "low-carb-flu".  But, as a fit individual, he seemed to adapt pretty quickly:

"I started to come out of the carb-haze on day 8 and by 2 weeks in, I was feeling better. I cycled myself into ketosis.... I was starting to have consistent energy throughout the day. No lows, no crashes. I started to experiment with some carb-fasted runs with good success. I found I was able to run a 17-mile run after an 18-hour carb fast on only water and one s-cap [a salt tablet], with the last 12 at 50K race pace without any issues. I wasn’t even that hungry after the run. Not my normal. 
"I started to go on my long 4-5 hour runs with only 50 calories per hour of Roctane drink with no bonks. I lost 7 pounds in the first 10 days and then stabilized at my high school weight of 135 pounds. My energy levels were solid. Recovery seemed to be faster too...."

So how'd the race go?  Not stress-free, as he was pretty concerned about how this would work.  Big changes before a race are a no-no, and every runner knows it's a recipe for disaster.  But:

"I entered Paradise Aid Station at mile 27 in 4th place and left in the lead."

There are some open questions about whether a low-carb approach actually improves performance.  It clearly doesn't impair it, but is it better?  But there are many ways to improve performance.  If your competitors have to stop frequently to carb-load, and you don't, you've just improved your performance, even if you're not actually going any faster.  Anton Krupicka and Kilian Jornet both saw success with this approach (busted legs aside).

"As I came back to Paradise at mile 47 still in the lead, I was stoked. I felt good, I had no bonks, despite going on half the calories of my normal 100-mile nutrition plan. As I left, I yelled over my shoulder at my crew, Jesse Haynes, “It’s working! It’s working!” I was just as surprised. I had fretted quite a bit before the race, back up gels in all my drop bags, how much to take per hour? How would my body react? Sure it seemed to work in a 4-5 hour run, but what about at 12 hours? 16? My normal regimen was out the window, the regimen that had been working for years in 100s with good success."

Nevertheless, he won:

"I crossed the line in 21 hours, 22 minutes for my 14th 100-mile win and my 23rd hundred mile finish. So thankful and excited to grab another win and feel better than I have in a while, health-wise. Paleo and OFM are working well for me and I feel strong and excited for the 2016 season! Especially with both Western States 100 and Hardrock 100 on the schedule — a mere three weeks apart.

His review of the diet?

"The LCHF diet has been amazing. I just can’t say enough. I was able to go on half the calories I normally would intake in a 100-miler (GU Roctane, Vespa, unsweetened banana chips, and few orange wedges mainly). It’s a different, less traveled road, but worth it for the health benefits. My post-race recovery was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Truly unbelievable."

Better recovery is another way to improve performance even if you're not actually faster.

Congrats to Bronco Billy, on the win and on figuring out how to cure his health issues:

"I was a mess. I’d been fighting a candida/yeast issue in my GI tract since June and a staph infection I’d picked up in South America. I’d had to go on antibiotics for the staph, but this caused the yeast to get worse. I was dealing with my 4th major candida flare-up. When it would flare, I’d usually miss a night of sleep itching out of my mind, I was sick and tired of dealing with this issue. 
"In a desperate state, I started researching anti-candida diets online and came across a Paleo forum talking about yeast and candida and that the Paleo lifestyle could help heal it. After all, yeast feeds on sugar and it made sense to cut out any yeast-feeding foods, especially starchy, sugary carbs. Plus, it helped that my wife had wanted to go Paleo for several years. She’d been dealing with some insulin resistance/hypoglycemia symptoms since her 20s. She already had two Paleo cook books. So, we embarked on cutting out grains, legumes, sugar, wine, beer and even coffee for good measure (I did bring back red wine in moderation after 4 weeks). It was 7 weeks from race day when I got full-on crazy strict — even through the holidays. I had no choice. I just couldn’t deal with another yeast flare-up."

See the comments on that post too, where some other top ultra-runners weigh in.

via Zach Bitter: "Healthy curiosity and 'The Diet Wars'"