The end of 2012 found me contemplating my previous racing season. It was a great year of ultra-marathons, with multiple PR’s, an AG win and almost a top-10. I was left with the feeling though, that “this was it”, I just can’t get much faster or better and it will be all downhill from here. I am 48, so that day is looming I’m sure.
But. I still have one card yet to play. My diet. I've always just eaten anything and everything. Why not when you run 70 mi/wk, right? Well, after reading ZachBitter’s blog on low-carb performance, I thought that was well worth investigation. My long race performance (> 50 mi) sure could use some improvement. Too many bonks with too much central fatigue.
I went out and bought The Art & Science of Low-Carb Performance by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek. I have now been officially keto-adapted for 8 weeks and I’m no longer looking back to my old diet. I eat <50 g low-glycemic carbs/day, a set amount of protein, and enough healthy fat to manage my body weight. Here are some of the results I've found in my short experiment:
Energy Level – I considered the spikes and lows of carb-based nutrition as just normal every-day life experience. Not so as keto-man! I feel awesome! My energy levels are even all day long, with no afternoon slumps. During long runs, I experience about an hour of slight soreness in my legs, and then no significant discomfort after. Without fueling. My longest run so far has been 4 hrs, so what happens beyond, we’ll see.
Recovery – Wow. This is the area where I am seeing the greatest improvement. I used to really feel a 4 hr run for at least 48 hrs. Now it is just a dull ache for about 12 hrs, and I am ready to go the next day. This is good, because I want to be doing closer to 100 miles/week max in training for a 100 miler.
Explosive Power – I find that I might have a little less explosive power available. I am still in my base training phase, and have not started speed-work yet, so this may not be the case. But. I do stair training every Tuesday morning, at the 250 ft Willow River falls stairs. Last year, as a carb-fueled person, I would lunge every-other step for the first 125 ft, and then run each step of the remainder. This year, the lunges seem to me a bit more difficult to maintain, and I’m dying more at the end. We’ll see though. It may be too early to tell.
Body Weight – I can’t keep it on! My racing weight used to be around 150 lb at about 14% fat. Training weight was about 155-160 lb. Today, I am running about 50 mi/wk at 142 lb and 12% while dropping about 2 lb per week. The real bummer is that I don’t seem to be adding lean muscle mass yet. I’m not sure what is going on. I do think that, for being in a training phase, I weigh too little and need to pack on a bit more to my 6 foot frame. More fat I guess.
The Role of Carbs in Racing – I am convinced that I can run a race while maintaining the keto diet. Supposedly the Vespa supplement could help me, but it is so dang expensive. Others speak of using super-starch, like U-CAN, which slow-drips the carbs into your system. Zach Bitter mixes his carb gels and Vespa while racing for optimal performance.
I am convinced that carbs will play a role in my races. I will start experimenting with U-CAN after my long runs reach about 5 hours or so. I’ll try some gels too, to gauge their effect. From what I read, I’ll want to avoid the insulin response. Hmmm. At mile 90 I’m thinking the Expresso Express gel might be what the doctor ordered. Or, I might drop from a coronary. We’ll see.
Favorite Food – Steak, duh. My second favorite is a shake though. Add the following to a blender, in this order:
1/4 cup blueberries
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1/4 cup whey protein (peanut butter works too)
Blend to consistency. Pour into glass. Add the following to the glass (this will gunk up your blender, so add it here):
Olive oil, or fish oil to taste
1 TBSP chia seeds
There is a wonderful blog written by three (now four!) keto-adapted athletes called runketo.com, where I have found some great info to aid in my diet adventure. There are many links to other keto-friendly blogs there as well.
I know I am an experiment of one, but the results look promising!