Thursday, February 15, 2018

2 months into my new diet: fat-charged turbo-diesel

Time flies, days, night, weeks and weekends are getting way too short... I started writing these lines on day 61 of my journey toward fat adaptation, right on 2 months, but it's already day 84 this Thursday, better get this post out before I reach the 3-month milestone!

While it has been almost 3 months on this path, I'm still feeling quite incompetent to write about a dietary subject, still very much learning about the basics. Or maybe more experimenting as a matter of fact because I'm certainly not studying everything I should if I was pursuing a degree to become a Registered Dietitian (yes, this field has specific Bachelors and Masters, and I assume Doctorates too!).

But, as a few people encouraged me to share about this experience, here are a few random thoughts on my journey to become a fat-adapted athlete.

First, I'd start with some contradiction. In my original post regarding this change of diet, I mentioned that was the toughest experiment I had ever attempted in my ultra running career. It's hard to compare it to a tough 100-mile, and I've yet to attempt 200 miles or multi-day events. It's certainly very different from a physical standpoint but it requires quite some mental to change these life habits. Tough enough if you are in the lab of your house, but even more challenging when you travel or have a social life. That being said, 

Take my breakfasts for instance. For more than 50 years I've enjoyed a bowl of chocolate milk every morning with a few toasts and butter. Quite simple, no jelly, no honey but I was really  looking forward to the taste of it to start my day. Every day, that is more than 18,000 times since that's my lifetime. Well, look at my new typical breakfast nowadays, quite a change!

From an experiment standpoint, it was great to pick the first month during Advent, right after Thanksgiving, and before Christmas. Yet, we had quite a few Holidays parties which could have derailed my plans but my motivation was high as I had wanted to test this new diet for quite a few years and I wanted to do a 30-day reset of my body anyway during my yearly running break. That being said, cutting on gluten, grains and even all dairy was still tough after leaving and thriving from them for 50 years.  Thankfully, and gratefully, Agnès accepted to do the same experiment and I must say that, having your significant other on board, is a huge success factor. Indeed, there is more cooking involved and you don't want to fight temptation at every meal by looking at others enjoying bread and pasta in my case, or other delicious desserts.

Ahhh, the desserts... I quite well adapted to all the other constraints but I'm still missing them so much! Being raised in France, a meal isn't complete for me without something sugary under my palate to finish on a sweet note, pun intended. To make the matter worse, I tolerate stevia rather well but Agnès not at all, and vice-versa for erythritol, darn! We are now experimenting with coconut sugar which, surprisingly enough for such a natural sugar substitute, is absent from most of the keto cooking books and recipes we've found so far. Initially, Agnès even did her wonderful chocolate mousse with 99% cacao chocolate: it was hard to eat but we finished all of it as we were starving for a dessert a few weeks ago! ;-)

In contrast to the previous picture, look at the last extravagant dessert plate I enjoyed on Thanksgiving dinner, before plunging head first in the carb starvation! I have to say that I pushed the envelope on that one, that wasn't representative of my daily diet, thankfully...

To be clear, I'm not doing the experiment to prove anything, there have been enough success stories in endurance sports including ultra running, just look at Zach Bitter, Jon Olsen or Anthony Kunkel! Yet, it has to work on the individual basis so, beyond all the proven theory, it still reminds a single-individual experiment. Here are my main motivations:
  1. Get on a diet which makes a lot of sense from an ultra endurance standpoint, that is about burning fat which we have plenty of in our body, much more calories overall than the carbs our muscles can store;
  2. Besides, a diet which allows you to cut on calorie intake during races, hence decreasing the risk of GI issues;
  3. A diet which is also much more relying on natural ingredients, cutting on any processed food;
  4. Decreasing the sugar which cancer cells are so hungry for and live from;
  5. A diet which is also renowned to help your body better manage the cholesterol levels (good and bad ones), allowing you to avoid the infamous statins;
  6. Decreasing the risks of inflammation associated with repetitive stress on all joints and high volume;
  7. As for performance, not expecting much as I had quite some speed already, but hoping to gain more endurance in the longer distances (i.e. 100 miles and beyond).

I didn't include weight management in the list because I had already this under control and operating at a low weight already, but that's definitely a factor which some people are looking for when picking keto (or paleo at least). As a matter of fact, the first therapeutic application of keto diets is to help handle epilepsy, nothing to declare on that side fortunately. One other benefit which many people report about keto is mind clarity. This is definitely appealing but I can't say much about it from these initial 2 months (I never drank coffee to say awake or high, nor any substance, I'm probably not a great reference for that part of the experiment! ;-).

Regarding the management of my cholesterol levels, it's still too early to tell, we need at least 3 months for new blood test to be relevant.

So, the big question and the elephant in the room, is it working? What I can say so far is that I'm certainly functioning quite well, mostly running on fat for these past 2 months, and that shouldn't be a surprise to the folks following me on Strava. Over the first 6 weeks of this regiment (following a 2-week break at the same time I was getting fat adapted), I ran 483 miles including 2 ultra marathons and more than a handful of fast workouts at the track (short speed workout sessions or tempo runs of 64 to 80 laps). And since I'm not taking much carb anymore, all the energy has to come from fat, hence the title. As a matter of fact, I've never been so lean which makes sense since I use the fat I eat.

Another amazing benefit is the loss of sense of hunger with this diet. Since your body uses fat as fuel, you are not subject to the lows and highs associated with carbo loading, and I can now keep going for 6 to 7 hours without feeling hungry.

Since I delayed this post for so long, you've seen that I managed to run a good 50K 2 weeks ago. I'm now on my way to Vegas to run the 100-mile Road National Championships which will offer another major test of the fine balance I'm still working on between fat burning, the use of strategic carbs and the management of electrolytes. Leveraging the professional insights of my coach in this matter, Peter Defty. Then it will be time to post about the first 3 months, another major milestone in this journey which has been rather successful so far.

In the meantime, I look forward to keeping the new turbo-diesel running, meeting familiar and new faces at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival this weekend, and hearing about how others do at our 2nd race of our Ultra Grand Prix in Auburn, the FOURmidable 50K which I feel sorry to miss. USATF calling in too many places at the same time! ;-)

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