Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs? – NYTimes.com

NYTimes on the low carb, high fat diet for endurance athletes:

But, Dr. Burke said, no study to date has shown that extremely high-fat, ketogenic diets actually “enhance sports performance,” only that they make endurance athletes better able to use fat as a fuel. And the same studies generally show that high-fat diets blunt performance during high-intensity sprints, which, even in fat-adapted athletes, demand fast-burning sugar stores.

via Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs? – NYTimes.com.

Reminds me of last summer when I experimented with a ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat) and was able to run 13 miles with no food.

In my experience, low carb worked very well for long and slow running, biking, etc. On the flip side, low carb seems to be impossible when lifting weights. Low carb and weightlifting caused debilitating migraines for me. The headaches were so bad I lost about 5 weeks of training and my doctor made me get my head checked because he thought it might be an aneurysm. Not fun. The headaches disappeared when I added steamed white rice to my pre-workout meals.

I haven’t tried sprint workouts, but I imagine they are similar to weightlifting (short, explosive energy demands) and would also lead to migraines if on a low carb diet… but that’s a guess at how my body would respond. Sounds like a fun experiment!

Don’t Stop When You’re Full – The Bodybuilding Bulking Diet

The photo gallery above shows all the food I ate on a recent Sunday. This is a ridiculous amount of food for my little body (I’m 5’8″ and 171 pounds). I struggled to finish that delicious sweet potato at the end of the day.

Eating like a bodybuilder is hard work. (aka bulk mode.) But stuffing yourself day after day is required to add muscle. And boy, is it a challenge. I spend most of my free time in the kitchen cooking, washing dishes and eating. All the cooking and eating is the hardest part of bodybuilding. It’s also my least favorite.

It’s expensive. Food ain’t free. Doubling the amount of food I would typically eat increases the cost of every trip to the grocery store. On the bright side, a 6’5″ dude would have to eat even more than me. Yikes. Perhaps this is the only benefit of being short?

Being full all the time is not fun. I thought it would bliss. It’s far from. It’s uncomfortable. The constant weight of a full stomach makes me tired. I don’t know if it’s the extra energy required to digest all the extra food or if the feeling of being full is what makes me want to nap. After each meal the last thing I want to do is any type of movement.

I’m still going to do it. This list of downsides won’t stop me from continuing to eat as much as I can. It’s surprising how doing it is very different from what I thought it would be like. At least I know that I can do it… for now. The most frightening fact is that eventually this amount of food will cease to be effective at adding muscle. When that happens I’ll have to eat even more. It reminds me of what Louie CK said, which seems like a perfect bodybuilding mantra:

louie

How to Stop Heartburn Naturally

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates

hippocrates
Hippocrates

I cured heartburn without using drugs, thanks to Hippocrates. That’s a little dramatic, but it’s accurate because I modified my diet and heartburn disappeared.

Like most people, I googled and googled “causes of heartburn” and “how to cure heartburn.” Eventually, I found this essay on the causes (aka “FOOD”) and natural cures (aka “FOOD”) for acid reflux, heartburn and GERD by Chris Kresser.

Spoiler Alert: You don’t get heartburn because you’re “getting older.”

What Causes Heartburn?

The causes of heartburn are difficult to find because the word “cause” is used in various ways. Below are examples of how the word “cause” is on different medical websites:

Mayo Clinic

  • Cause: describes the cause of symptoms: “Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus).”

WebMD

  • Cause: Describes the cause of symptoms: “lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, that doesn’t tighten as it should”
  • Top 10 Heartburn Foods: Even though WebMD doesn’t list these foods as “causes” of heartburn, at least they acknowledge the connection.

The medical websites don’t agree.

Even more baffling is the Cleveland Clinic who suggests taking drugs that don’t work. Here’s what they say:

“No medicine can prevent you from getting reflux if you eat a pepperoni pizza and drink a full pitcher of beer.”

Sounds like food is the issue. But on the same page they also say:

“Take Prilosec or Nexium about a half hour before eating. Some patients mistakenly take them at bedtime, which doesn’t provide any benefit. The medications reduce the amount of stomach acid but they don’t help keep the sphincter closed; there is currently no FDA-approved medication that does.”

Just so you and I are on the same page, this is how I view the question “What causes heartburn?”

Something –> Acid in Esophagus –> Heartburn

  • Something – the cause of the symptom.
  • Acid in the esophagus is the symptom. It’s the reason I feel pain in my chest.
  • Heartburn is a fancy name for the symptom. It’s also an extra layer of confusion.

Here’s another way to look at it:

Something is causing Acid in the Esophagus which is named Heartburn

My goal was to find out what the “something” is – whether it’s food, environment, stress, etc. That’s what I call the cause of heartburn.

For example…

If I ask my doctor “What causes heartburn?” and he replies with “acid in your esophagus” that’s accurate, but it doesn’t give me any idea on how to fix the problem.

I think this statement says it best:

The fundamental problem is that the key to overcoming any disease is to identify the root cause and take appropriate steps to eliminate it. In practice, this is rarely done and most of us blithely accept that even though we continue doing whatever caused the disease, it can be overcome by treatment with drugs. The reality is that the best that be achieved with drugs is some alleviation of the symptoms. Even if a “cure” is achieved, the likelihood is that the disease will recur unless the cause is removed.

Back to what really causes heartburn…

According to Kresser, many healthy foods contain histamines. And a histamine intolerance is why I was experiencing heartburn.

I had daily heartburn for several weeks and couldn’t remember exactly when it started. I think it was due to eating 4,000 calories per day as an experiment (that’s a whole other blog post). I was eating eggs and bacon daily to get a ton of calories. Based on what Kresser wrote, eggs and bacon contain histamines.

Histamines = Heartburn

Following Kresser’s advice, I stopped eating these histamine containing foods:

  • Coffee
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Cinnamon

After avoiding all of those (delicious!) foods for a couple of weeks, I still had symptoms and was not happy. The next step was to cut histamine producing foods even further.

I started cooking or steaming all of my vegetables (except avocado). I’ve never been able digest raw vegetables very well anyway, so this was easy to do, but it didn’t work.

I was desperate so I tested a few supplements.

Supplements for Heartburn

  • I tried taking digestive enzymes before meals, during meals and after meals. It didn’t work.
  • I tried Betaine HCL before each meal which helped reduce symptoms. Small win!
  • I tried Quecertin before one meal per day. It was most effective way to lessen my symptoms.
  • Tried a histamine reducing probiotic and it didn’t help.

I could have just purchased a subscription on Amazon to have Quecertin delivered to my door every month. But how is that different from a monthly prescription drug?

My goal was to find the root cause, NOT to add daily pills to deal with the symptoms.

Carbs & Heartburn

I read Chris Kresser’s PDF again to see if I missed anything. I had already tried everything he suggested. There was one food I missed (or ignored): Carbs. He said carbs could be a cause for heartburn too.

I had been eating two or three servings of carbs every day. To test, I reduced carbs to only one serving at one meal each day. This was a reduction in frequency and total amount. I doubled down.

A few days after reducing the rice, the heartburn symptoms began to weaken.

I took a huge leap forward.

Feeling confident that a solution was almost within reach, I had to find out if reducing carbs even further would get rid of heartburn for good! I reduced my carbs to only two days a week for three weeks.

It worked! My heartburn disappeared. Gonzo. Nada.

And the results of the test were coming into focus: “Starchy carbs (like white rice and sweet potato) are the on/off switch for my heartburn”

Side Note: Transitioning to a low-carb diet is really hard. Even harder if you continue to exercise like I did. I suffered. I had trouble staying awake and craved carbs for two weeks straight. It was torture. At the time, I had no idea this was my introduction into low-carb, ketosis, etc.

Carbs Caused My Heartburn

Just to make sure carbs were the cause of my heartburn, I started eating white rice every day again. It only took one week to feel the heartburn again. The good news is: I can cut carbs and turn heartburn off… without drugs or supplements.

Butter. Mmmmm, butter.
A week later, I added all those yummy foods (coffee, butter, etc.) back into my diet. I haven’t confirmed this yet, but I’d bet my life that “ecstasy” is defined as the feeling you get from eating butter after five long weeks avoiding it.

Mmmmm, butter!

Food is The Natural Cure
No drugs and no supplements. Instead, just avoid foods that make you sick. Could there be a more natural cure than that?

I’m Not Getting Older, I’m Getting Better

I will never accept absurd statements (that I’ve overheard people tell each other) like:

“You’re X-years old so you should expect heartburn.”

I do not believe health problems arise because you reach a certain age. If I feel like shit or have a negative health issue that I can’t explain, there’s a good chance a single type of food in my diet is the problem.

Testing and monitoring my diet is the only way to find the cause of the problem. I test long enough to discover that information because it will be beneficial for the rest of my life.

Avoiding foods with negative side effects will make me healthier for longer.

Main food image by Michael Stern

How I Ran 13 Miles on Just Butter and Coffee

I ran a half marathon on just butter and coffee (aka Bulletproof Coffee). But it wasn’t always this way. I had to work at it. And I had to let go of what I thought I knew about carbs, fats and endurance sports.

Everything I learned about exercise and food has been proven wrong. Well, not “wrong”, but I’ve learned there is always an alternative method for anything. Over the years I’ve read lots of different books, blogs and essays on the relationship between food and exercise. When to eat, what to eat, how much of each macronutrient to eat, etc.

Generally speaking, most of the information is very similar. Typically, the suggestions are to eat carbs & protein in the 30-60 minute window immediately after a workout, load up on protein (from 0.5-1.5 grams per pound of body weight) and eat moderate to low amounts of fat. And if you’re doing any kind of endurance training, like long distance running, marathons, triathlons, etc., get crazy on the carbs! Runner’s World says to start carb loading three days in advance!

That’s what I used to do.

I thought loading up on carbs was the only way to successfully train for endurance events. I thought I’d die if I didn’t stuff my face with Chomps, Goos or other sugary snacks during my run.

This month I learned – through testing it myself – high carb is not the only way.

Where’d I get this crazy idea?

Professional Athletes Reducing Carbohydrates (aka Paleo)

Lately, I’ve been reading more and more about athletes who train, race and win endurance events on low carb diets. And they aren’t weekend warriors like me, these are professional athletes. But it’s not only the endurance athletes who’ve benefited from going low carb. Several NBA players have made the switch, like the LA Lakers.

Surprisingly (?) Runner’s World published an article on Paleo:

A few months after adopting a Paleo diet, ultrarunner Timothy Olson set a new course record at the 2012 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. “My legs are less swollen after really long runs,” says Olson. “I can go hard again sooner than I did before I went Paleo.”

While not specifically targeting pro athletes, The New Yorker wanted in on some hot paleo action.

I’m not a pro athlete. I don’t have a group of doctors, trainers, chefs and nutrition experts to plan, shop, measure and cook all of my food. I have to do everything myself. Plus, I don’t need the same foods and quantities that an NBA player or Ultra Marathoner or a Bodybuilder needs.

I need the diet that’s perfect for me: a guy who lifts some weights, bikes, runs and (unfortunately) spends lots of time sitting at a desk.

That’s where most people freeze. Finding the diet that works for you is… well, it’s friggin work. It’s a process. It takes time. It takes energy. It takes a bunch of other stuff that most people won’t even bother with. And that’s fine.

That’s not me. I tinker. I test. I fuck around a bit. Life is more interesting to me when I’m learning about anything. Learning how my body works – or better yet – what works for my body, is exciting, fulfilling and rewarding.

Reading articles, studies and listening to interviews of doctors and gurus only go so far. Applying what you learn is when shit gets interesting (or when shit hits the fan).

And that’s when the fun begins.

Don’t believe anything you read about Paleo, Low Carb, High Carb, Low Fat or any other diet. There is no magic in any diet. No diet works for everybody.

Instead, try it for yourself. Test it on yourself for a short time. If you like it, keep going. If you hate it, stop and make changes or find something else.

The pro tip is (my opinion):

There is no perfect, one size fits all diet. All you can do is find the diet that works the best for you, your activity level and your goals.

The Average Joe : Reducing Carbohydrates and Endurance Exercise

I wanted to test this low carb / endurance idea myself. I wanted to find out if:

  1. I could physically do it – run at least 10 miles
  2. It is better than what I was doing (carb loading).

Background – I’ve been eating a low carb diet for a while. Over a year at this point. Plus, I’m no stranger to running. I run and bike a bit every summer and typically top out around 8-10 mile runs. Which means making a switch to a lower carb diet and adding slightly longer runs isn’t a major shift or challenge.

Obviously, I had an advantage starting from this point and just stretching myself a little bit further to really blow my mind about what was possible – without tons of carbs.

This is not a tutorial. I’m not suggesting anyone try this. I’m just sharing what I did. Period. In fact, I’m not even saying that low carb is better, I’m just saying that going low carb and running a half marathon is definitely possible because I did it myself. That’s all.

Ok – here’s where we get into the details.

Run #1 – 7/2/2014  5.5 Miles

01

This is exactly what I did / ate leading up to the first real test run. The truth is, I didn’t know this was a “test” run because it was at the completion of this run that really got my brain trying to process what had just happened. This was an eye-opening experience.

A random Wednesday

  • 7am – bulletproof coffee (coffee mixed with butter and coconut oil)
  • Noon – quarter pound of ground beef at noon
  • 1pm – black coffee at 1pm
  • 4:30 – started run – which was my fastest of the year at 5.5 miles
  • Note – I didn’t eat anything during the run and only drank water.

This is what I wrote after the run:

It’s crazy to think I needed big meals before workouts. Now I already feel better working out with less/no food.

Working out always requires a big meal an hour before, right? That’s what I read and followed for years. Years. As in: It’s the only way I did anything.

I had never done any type of “fasted cardio” or any other exercise with no food. I read a lot about it, but thought it would be too difficult and / or impossible for me. Run #1 is where my beliefs began shift. And I was open to asking the question: Is it possible?

This was a whole new exciting and strange universe for me – the process of learning excites me.

That was the beginning.

Run #2 – 7/5/2014 – 11 Miles

02

Friday : day before the run

  • 7am baked a sweet potato – mashed with butter, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Put in fridge.
  • 7am – Bulletproof Coffee
  • Noon – quarter pound ground beef
  • 4:30pm – quarter pound ground beef and steamed vegetables
  • 7:00pm – quarter pound ground beef and a sweet potato with butter

Saturday:

  • 6am Woke up and took my probiotic with about 12-14oz of water.
  • 7:10am Started making my Bulletproof Coffee (coffee with butter and coconut oil)
  • 7:45am Finished coffee
  • 9:00am Started running
  • 11am Finished run – Note – I didn’t eat anything during the run and only drank water.
  • 11:30 Another bulletproof coffee with collagen protein powder
  • 11:30 – 1:30pm wore full compression socks with feet
  • 1:30pm Not really hungry, but forced a meal down anyway, ground beef and rice
  • 2-3:30pm Tried to nap. Maybe 30 minutes of actual sleep
  • 4pm Half pound of grilled salmon with rice
  • 6pm Vitamins with L-Glutamine
  • 8pm Last meal hamburger, veggies, rice

My unedited notes from that day:

Ran 11 miles and didn’t get hungry either. Mind. Blown. Only had a little bit of water every couple miles.

Sipped on another fully loaded Bulletproof Coffee (with collagen!) from 11:30 to 1:30. Not really hungry at 1:30pm, but forced a meal down anyway.

Tried to nap, but it was too damn hot. Maybe 30 minutes of actual sleep and lots of laying in bed sweating.

Ate a pound of hamburger and half pound of salmon – and rice with each meal – in the hours after the nap and before bed. Other notes. I made sure to take my vitamins and L-Glutamine in the early evening between meals, around 6pm.

Recovery was pretty great. Wore compression socks for two hours after run and started to feel better in the evening. Knee soreness gone, just heavy legs. The day after is much better. Tired legs, but no pain in the knees or Achilles. They just feel tired.

Pretty amazing recovery so far. Maybe that was the collagen in the post race coffee, the compression socks or carbs with each meal yesterday.

Yes, 10:41 pace is slow. I’m not a pro. I’m an average runner, like most people. Plus, this wasn’t about getting done as quickly as possible – this was about finding a completely new way to run a long distance on very little carbs – and change everything I thought I knew about food and endurance training.

Run #3 – 7/12/2014 – 5.5 Miles

03

Friday : day before the run

  • 7am – Bulletproof Coffee
  • Noon – quarter pound ground beef
  • 4:30pm – quarter pound ground beef and steamed vegetables
  • 8pm: 7 ounce steak with a cup of steamed white rice and two tablespoons of butter.

Saturday

  • 6:15am : wake up
  • 7-7:30am – Bulletproof Coffee
  • 8-10:30am: standing watching a friend run the Minneapolis triathlon
  • 11:15-noon: walked the dogs
  • 12:30pm start run – Note – I didn’t eat anything during the run and only drank water.
  • 1:30pm: finish run #PR
  • 2:15pm: first meal of the day

This run was interesting because I went the firs six hours of the day with just my typical Bulletproof Coffee. For some people, going the first six hours of the day without food is impossible – or they may think it is.

But I didn’t stop there… Had to run!

Then ran my fastest time ever – at any distance over 3 miles. 8:58 is blazing fast for me. I was stunned. “How can this be happening?” I thought.

I wanted more. More. More. More.

Run #4 13.2 Miles – The Half Marathon

04

11 miles was my longest run up to this point. Again, adding another two is a huge increase that I wasn’t sure if I could accomplish, but I decided to try – for science!

Saturday: day before the run

  • 7am – Bulletproof Coffee
  • Noon – 6oz steak and steamed vegetables
  • 4:30pm – quarter pound ground beef and steamed vegetables
  • 8pm – quarter pound ground beef and baked sweet potato

Sunday

  • 7am – wake up
  • 8am – Bulletproof Coffee (coffee mixed with butter & coconut oil)
  • 9am – start running – Note – I didn’t eat anything during the run and only drank water.
  • 11:23am – End run

My notes from that afternoon:

Ran 13.2 miles. Coffee and no food. Never got hungry. Never even thought of food. Even the wife asked, amazed “how did you run that far without eating?” It is blowing my mind this is possible. In the past, I never would have run that far without eating breakfast AND eating chomps or goo packs (caffeine and sugar) along the way.

Conclusion

I wanted to challenge my own beliefs on what was possible – by doing the exact opposite of what I had done in the past. To my surprise it worked very well. I’m not ready to claim carb loading or high fat is better than the other because I don’t run enough to notice minute positive or negative impacts.

I do think this experiment was successful because I proved to myself that there is always an alternative to what is regarded as the only way. In this case, carb loading is the most common approach to endurance sports. But low carb is another option that worked well for me.