Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Grand Experiment

Just before the finish line of my most recent half marathon.
     I've been basically conducting my own little experiment with running and diet since the beginning of the year.  Let's just say my dietary choices were pretty out of control over the holiday season and I gained 10 lbs in the space of about two months.  Something had to be done!  I needed to get back to basics for paleo/primal.  I started looking into options that were on the paleo spectrum but also helpful for endurance athletes.  I looked into Loren Cordain's Paleo Diet for Athletes but it seemed like more carbs than I could reasonably function on.  Every time my carb levels go up, I gain weight.  I tried doing their program during my training for my first half marathon last fall and gained fat.  It'd be nice to be able to say it was muscle, but my pants got tighter and I got more of a belly.
So, in my googling, I found a few discussions referring to The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Steve Phinney.  Their research on low carbohydrate diets actually enhancing performance for endurance athletes (after up to a 6 week transition period) was fascinating to me, so I figured I'd try it out for a while.  I highly recommend reading it to see what they say before anyone starts criticizing it.  Recently, for instance, a low carb athlete won the Western States 100 race!  

Low and behold I started dropping pounds (like most people do on a low carb diet), despite not having yet picked up my mileage for my half marathon.  Volek and Phinney do recommend use of non-caloric sweeteners, but I just cut out sweets aside from occasional berries.  I ate nuts and lots of veggies and lots of fatty meat and dairy.  Honestly, I think I should probably cut the dairy out, too, because I think it is related to some of my problems like acne, but I just haven't gotten there yet (or maybe ever).

The first couple weeks were tough, cutting back that much, but after that it felt normal and I didn't mind not having the sweets that I used to crave, though  I did eat the occasional piece of dark chocolate.  I kept track of my diet for the first few weeks on sparkpeople.  It was really enlightening how many incidental carbs I was getting without realizing it.  A lot of people end up with "carb flu" starting any kind of low carb diet, but I didn't - presumably owing to my somewhat low carb diet in the past following paleo/primal.

I was training for the Greater Binghamton Bridge Run Half-marathon, which was beginning of May.  Once I acclimated to the diet, my running was just fine, though I did bring some "bonk-protection" (a bit of sugary something-or other) and drank coconut water on my longer runs, but even my 13 mile training run, which was over 2 hrs of running, I felt completely fine and did not have to break out the emergency sugar.

My results:

 I'm pleased with this diet and how functional I am as an athlete on it, but recently I've read more about super low carb and cortisol, so now I'm not exactly sure what to do.  I've struggled with adrenal fatigue (aka overtraining, except mine was just from stress in life, not stress from exercise) in the past and am not overly interested in hitting that again. It was fascinating that I didn't really get hungry ever, though, and found my "full" response.  I would get through half of what I normally wanted to eat and just be... done.  That never happened before with my regular old paleo/primal diet.

In terms of my running performance, I PR'd by 10 minutes (1:54:06), which was awesome, but I'll admit that I trained much better for this race than I had for my last. 

Overall, I'd recommend people try this for a couple months and see how you feel.  Maybe it'll be great!  Maybe you won't notice much of a difference.  Definitely read the book, though, because the research is FASCINATING!  It really put a twist on my thinking about the need for carb loading, etc.

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