“The human body is designed to perform optimally using “fat as your Fuel” for aerobic performance. This is why humans carry large stores of fat and very limited stores of Glycogen. Why not optimize utilization of “fat as fuel”? Even the leanest athlete carries more than enough “on –board” fat calories to run a 100 miles, cycle a double century or complete an ironman. Think of it this way; Fat is you aerobic energy source and Glycogen/Glucose is your “fight or Flight fuel”. So unless your event is the 100 meter dash or Olympic powerlifting, focusing on optimizing fat metabolism needs to be a fundamental part of any athletes program. The OFM Program.
So before I start getting into how I ran my 100km race on fat. I would like to make one point clear. Some people from both the high carb camps and low carb camps may try and say I am not running on fat because I use some strategic carbohydrates based on my training and recovery. It would be fair to say I am not using a strict Ketogenic diet or staying in a state of deep Nutritional ketosis all the time, this does not mean I am therefore compromising my long term health in the pursuit of sporting success. The healthy lifestyle I have led allows me to take advantage of the strategic use of Carbohydrates. I can safely say that for the last 12 months my average daily carbohydrate consumption would sit around 50 – 60 grams a day at best. If we look at what I consumed during the race many would argue that it is predominantly Carbohydrates, which is correct. However if we take into consideration my calorie expenditure (about 9000 Calories) compared to my calorie consumption (900 at best) for that 12 hour period it only makes up about 10% of my total fuel. This is only all possible by being fat adapted.
The Objective of the “strategic” use of carbs allows this quick burning energy source to have a stronger, more sustainable impact on performance using significantly less, without compromising long term metabolic health. Depending upon the event and intensity level sneaking back some carbs can occur up to 3 nights out to the night before. The higher the intensity and shorter the event the sooner carbs are raised.
When insulin levels are low and insulin sensitivity high, well fat adapted athletes can have a meal where concentrated forms of Low carb High Fat/ Banting friendly carbohydrates are ingested under a “blanket” of fat…. one common and easy way of doing this is a medium rare Rib-eye steak, greasy ground chuck, roast duck, salmon or any other well-marbled red meat, NOT lean meat and a baked potato or sweet potato buried under loads of butter, sour cream and salt.
Please note I am not talking about Carbohydrate loading, the actual amount of strategic carbohydrate ingested by a person is based on the individual. Their tolerances to carbohydrates and overall metabolic health. For some sporting/active people strategic carbs may be a rise of 10 or 20 grams at the very most. Others it may be closer to 100gms in total.
The Surf Coast Century – Run On Fat
So 7 months after completing my first Ultra Marathon I was lining up for a 100km trail race. More than double the distance of anything I had ever raced before. If there ever was going to be a test of how well being fat adapted works for me, this would be it. However before we look at race day let’s start at the beginning.
Post the Mt Bulller Skyrun I sat down and looked at what I felt was missing that day. It was by all accounts a successful race I achieved my goals. I was able to go all day on minimal fuel, I had no cramping issues, my energy levels were constant and I never hit a wall/bonk that had me sitting on the side of the track or under a tree feeling like death.
In between Mt Buller Skyrun and The Great Ocean Road Marathon I researched the train low race high theory looking for ways to enhance my fat adaption and work on my endurance speed, in the process I discovered The OFM Program, Vespa and met Peter Defty. Some early conversations with Peter, founder of the OFM Program quickly had me realise two things.
One I had been using a number of fat adaption strategies in my training and nutrition for a very long time but was not necessarily taking full advantage of it.
Two, I was not using my carbohydrates strategically (LCHF is Low Carb not NO Carb) and so was not getting the full benefits of training, recovery and performance that is possible with the LCHF lifestyle.
To put it simply, based on my metabolic health, blood markers, previous race performances and recovery, as a Fat Adapted Athlete the key for me was to start strategically cycling carbohydrates in and out to maximise training, recovery and race days.
So my Surf Coast Century OFM training program actually started with me testing some strategic carbohydrates. I already could run for 3 plus hours in a fasted state and was naturally doing some short Intermittent Fasting. I structured this better to maximise my recovery periods between sessions. I had one main meal per day usually dinner, a light breakfast or lunch with the other being no more than a snack (piece of cheese, few nuts, and espresso or bone broth)
I must emphasise at this point, despite all of this I was still very low carb and on an average daily basis I was still only having 50 to 70gms per day on my high days and during recovery weeks would see my daily average drop between 20 and 50gms per day. Sweet Potato cooked in butter and the odd banana and coconut milk smoothie was my usual source of Carbohydrates. The rest would be from some full cream milk, bit of dark chocolate and plenty of vegetables. I began eating Liver at least twice a week, making bone broth every week and drinking a mug of it every day. Bone broth also became my recovery drink post workout. Depending on the intensity of the training sessions I quite often would continue in my fasted state for anywhere up to a couple of hours. The lack of hunger post workout is quite a normal process and something I have always done. This promotes a higher level of fat adaptation and allows my body to time begin the repair and recovery process straight away.
Also bear in mind the post workout feeding window theory is from the High Carb Camp and an athlete that is heavily dependent on Glycogen for fuel would need to top up their tanks soon after a workout as they have been depleted from the session. A Fat Adapted Athlete on the other hand will conserve their Glycogen stores for the really high intensities efforts. Also it’s not uncommon for highly fat adapted athletes to experience post exercise glucose surges without taking on board any exogenous carbs, and is something that is seen consistently in OFM Fat adapted athletes and I have personally observed in my own training sessions.
Further to this it was also noted recently in the summary of the FASTER Study.
That the Low Carbohydrate Athletes have an “ability to maintain ‘NORMAL’ glycogen concentrations in the context of limited carbohydrate intake.”
Starting June, the focus was on developing training sessions based on improving my ability to run on fat. Apart from my 3 longest runs which were also nutrition trials, the majority of all my remaining sessions were all conducted in a fasted state. Some I deliberately increased the carbs the day before by 20 to 50grams due to the nature of the workout. Others I changed nothing the day before and started them fasted. Some runs started with a Vespa 40 minutes beforehand then nothing. Other sessions I would start fasted and deliberately take a Vespa after 2 hours or a gel or even both mainly see how my body responded and also recovered.
Starting and training in a fasted state allows the body to tap into its fat stores more efficiently, helping to develop the athlete’s ability to use Fat As Fuel. If we looked at my running program many would say it looked no different to a normal running program. There were long runs, tempos, intervals and recovery sessions. However what made it so different in my opinion was the incorporation of the OFM Program, the use of intermittent fasting, the timing of the carbohydrates and the use of Vespa. As well as specific sessions based on challenging my fat adaption in various ways. Whether it was to build a bigger base of Fat adapted running or burn fats at higher and higher intensities so as to preserve my glycogen stores. This program wasn’t just about getting miles and speed in the legs. It was about building a metabolically sound body that would not let me down on race day.
My nutrition trial runs were also my 3 longest runs for my entire training block all were between 50 – 56km runs. The process for these was simple have a decent amount of carbs the night before around 100 grams under a good amount of fat so sweet potato cooked in coconut oil and covered in sour cream with a good serving of protein – salmon or steak. In the morning I had a boiled egg or two some avocado, fat coffee and a Vespa and ran. I ran the first two hours on water only then took a second Vespa. On two runs of the runs I also came back to the car and had some bone broth and then kept going. The reason for this was to see if it was a good option for race day.
The first of the three I trialled real food nuts bit of chocolate, nut bar, broth and salted water. It went well I could certainly have kept going but my pace wasn’t as consistent as I would like.
The second run was a trial of Vespa and tailwind. The food the night before and morning of were similar to the first. I mixed one scoop of tailwind in one litre of water (100 calories) they say 1 to 2 scoops in 750 ml and consume in an hour two. So in comparison I was having quite a diluted mix, I ran the entire 53 km on less than 1 litre of tailwind mix and 500ml of water. I also took a salt tablet every 10km, felt fine and was not at all sore the next day. This Run would have been my best run out of all three. My energy was great pace was very consistent and could have kept going had I wanted to. I was pressed for time so 53 was all I could squeeze in.
The third run was not so good and interestingly the only thing done differently was I used white potato instead of Sweet Potato. I have suspected for a while that the starchy carbohydrates dont agree with me. Again it wasn’t huge amounts of carbohydrates but it was enough to unsettle my system. I still ran the first 2 hours fasted, and then used more Vespa and the Tailwind like the previous run, I just didn’t feel as comfortable and everything was a little harder that day by comparison to the other two long runs. My recovery was also a little slower by comparison to the other two. I should add it was also the last time I have eaten Starchy carbohydrates and I have felt much better for it.
The key here early in the week was straight after my long run Sunday to drop my carbs really low to get the ketone engine really in fine tune and take full advantage of the recovery aspects of being in or close to nutritional ketosis. On the Wednesday which was to be my final training run I brought back some carbs for breakfast maybe 30 grams at best as the run was late in the arvo. Due to the fall I had at the end of this session I held off till the Thursday morning to bring more carbs back in, in the hope it might help keep my inflammation down.
Thursday I estimate my carb intake was around the 70 to 80 grams I also brought my meals closer together to create some fasting time between Thursday and Friday.
To extend my overnight fast on the Thursday I had a late breakfast Friday around 9.30 lunch around 1 and dinner by 6pm again by having such a small eating window it would create a small period of fasting to lower my insulin levels and minimise the impact of the strategic carbs on my ability to primarily burn fat come race day.
Friday – Race Eve
Breakfast – fried liver, 2 eggs avocado and cheese, a banana, blueberry, avocado, coconut cream and double cream smoothie. Lots of fat and protein with the carbs to slow down the insulin response.
Dinner – 200gms of grilled Salmon some more of the vegetables from lunch, avocado and some cheese
Snacks – Bone Broth, 2 Lattes and handful of nuts and some dark chocolate after dinner.
2 boiled eggs, Avocado, coffee with cream in it and a Vespa Ultra concentrate.
My Race Nutrition Plan
Vespa 40 minutes before the start and one ever 2 to 3 hours
I had pre mixed 4 litres of water and tailwind. My ratio was 1.5 scoops of tailwind per litre of water (about 150 calories per litre) and top up my bottles as needed at the main checkpoints.
My plan was to run the first 1.5 hours fasted sipping water occasionally
Every 10km take a salt tablet and two tablets at the main checkpoints
I would have Bone broth, fresh water and salted water waiting for me at the 3 main checkpoints
2 lemon and macadamia nut bars one for the first half and one for the second half
some dark chocolate
and One Torq gel for the second half if needed
My Actual Race Nutrition
6 Vespa Ultra concentrate (114 calories 30 grams sugar)
2.5 litres of tailwind = 3.75 scoops (375 calories 94 grams of sugar)
1 macadamia nut bar (210 calories 25.2 grams sugar)
15 grams of Dark chocolate (69 calories 5.7 grams sugar)
One 700ml bottle of salted water
700ml of bone broth
Some Chicken Noodle soup (just the liquid) at the 77km checkpoint
I estimate I also had between 12 & 15 salt tablets too over the duration of the day.
So in total 768 calories of which about 155grams was sugar based. To be fair I would round the calories up to about 900 or 950 as I haven’t added the chicken noodle soup in and there are sure to be some calories in it and the bone broth too, the sugars wouldn’t be much higher though.
I truly wasn’t hungry post-race. Eating anything large was the last thing on my mind.
Protein shake with cream
Some macadamia nuts
Piece of cheese
and a piece of toast smothered with Avocado.
And a Glass of Red wine
I didn’t even christen my beer Stein was just happy to have it.
4am woke up pekish, had a few more nuts and a piece of cheese.
Breakfast next morning
Being my goal race for the year the plan was always to take a few weeks off. I felt fantastic post event next morning I was generally a little tender and tired but moving really well considering the distance I had run. Over the next few days I had no DOMS or real restriction where my movements were impeeded or activities overly restricted apart from running, where I found my ankle would start to swell after a few kms. To be honest the ankle was the only reason I didn’t return to a full training program and stuck to easy recovery runs for 3 weeks. I would get out there and felt fantastic but the ankle would keep me in check. It has also given me no trouble since returning to a full training program.
In regards to my nutrition I dropped my carbs to between 20 & 50 grams for the next couple of weeks. I did some jog walks in the first week all up maybe 7.5km and slowly built the kms back up. The one aspect thing I really like about cycling carbs in and out is in the early aspects of recovery where carbohydrates are very low for my level of fitness and activity it in a sense puts a governor on me forcing me to take it easy allowing the body to heal/rebuild for the next high intensity block of training. This short period of deep nutritional ketosis is fantastic from a recovery aspect and to also help reset the athlete’s fat adapted state to start the process all over again for the next event.
My thoughts on Race day.
I couldn’t be happier with my race my energy levels never really dropped, I was very clear headed the whole way. My focus was great I could still think straight. My post-race soreness was minimal and overall recovery was great. I am back to full training and running stronger than ever
Looking back over the journey would I change anything? YES firstly I would go back to 1 scoop of tailwind per litre, depending on distance between aid stations and the course profile etc. I would also carry one bottle of plain water and one with tailwind.
I would be inclined in future to have less tailwind or similar type products, more plain water and more salted water too. I would also consider incorporating a gel or two depending on the distance and elevation.
Finally unless it was a multi-day event I was involved in. I would reduce my consumption of “real Foods” to a bare minimum during the actual race. Digestion only interferes with performance and I have enough fuel on board to go all day, I just need that little bit exogenous glucose to keep all systems running at their peak. Some may also enjoy reading The Surf Coast Century – Where no two steps are the same which is an account of the actual race itself
For those Interested in learning more about the Low Carb High Fat – OFM Approach to sporting performance you might be interested in the two links below.
Low Carb High Fat – High Performance