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

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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

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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

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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

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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.