WELCOME!

So what is this blog all about?

Good question, I am not even sure I know yet, but I think there is a need for it.  Before I get to the point of this blog, let me introduce myself.

My name is Ryan Baxter, a father, husband, IBMer, and amateur obstacle course racer.  If you are looking for my technical content you are in the wrong place.  Head over to my other blog.  If you are here to learn more about being a primal obstacle course racer, than continue on!  I have a passion for three things in life, my lovely family, my career as a software developer, and lastly living a Paleo lifestyle and running obstacle course races.  It is my passion for Paleo and obstacle course raceing that led me to creating this blog.

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ME

For the better part of 30 years of my life I was not Paleo, all that changed once I decided to experiment with my diet.  Since about 2008 I had been pretty active, going to gym fairly regularly and exercising.  I thought that this gave me the right to eat however I wanted, so I did.  I ate OK not terrible (or what I thought was terrible at the time) and I was happy with my weight, fitness, and health.  Then in early 2015 after my daughter was born I made the decision to try to “eat better”.  I was not terribly concerned about loosing weight, but instead about putting higher quality foods in my body with the goal of fueling my workouts and possibly getting some definition in my body.  In addition I wanted to be setting a good example for my daughter as she grew.  I made the typical changes to my diet, ate more veggies and fruits, eliminated soda, ate more protein, limited carbs, and started eating only whole grains.  By sticking to these types of changes I started to see results.  I was able to push myself harder during workouts and saw some weight drop and definition in my body.

Becoming A Spartan

After seeing these changes I decided it was time to challenge myself, I wanted to do a Spartan race, so I signed up for a Spartan Sprint at Fenway Park in Boston.  In order to train for the race I decided to start running.  I have never been much of a runner so I started to slowly build up my distance over the Spring and Summer.  In addition to running, I also started doing specific exercises that would help with completing some of the obstacles.  I practiced rope climbing, monkey bars, wall climbs etc.  As I researched more and more about how to train for obstacle course racing in general I was coming across a lot of information about how to eat as well.  I continued to refine my diet and over the course of training for the Spartan Race I decided to limit my carb intake a little more than I was.  I stopped eating bread and pasta almost completely.  With the additional training and changes in my diet I saw further increases in my performance and was able to run distances longer than I ever imagined doing.  I was also able to exercise longer and more frequently than before with pretty good recovery times.

In the fall of 2015 I was able to successfully complete the Fenway Spartan Sprint and needless to say I was hooked on obstacle course racing.  I immediately made the decision that in 2016 I was going to complete the Spartan Trifecta.

Going Paleo

As I began to prepare myself mentally and physically for the journey that awaited me in 2016, I continued to refine my exercise routine and diet.  As I read into different diets and training programs people were using I kept on hearing about this diet called the Paleo diet.  While I found the theory behind the diet sound, I was not ready to give up all grains, and things like beans, and peanut butter.  I still enjoyed many of these things and thought it would be hard to live without them.  Eventually though as I evolved my eating habbits, I found myself eating less and less grains and found plenty of alternatives to things like pasta and bread.  Eventually I was close enough to eating Paleo already I decided to try out the diet and I have never looked back.  This is not to say I don’t “cheat” every once in a while, but 99% of the time I eat Paleo if I can at all help it.

Primal Endurance

One of my favorite health and fitness podcasts to listen too is the Ben Greenfield Podcast.  While I don’t follow every thing Ben says in his blog articles and podcasts, I do find it interesting and a majority of the content useful.  I particularly found his articles and podcasts on eating a low carb high fat diet very intriguing.

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Ben’s book, The Low Carb Athlete, is something I suggest you pick up and read if you are at all interested in a low carb high fat diet.  In the book Ben does not necessarily promote a Paleo diet but instead a general diet that is low in carbs high in fat and targets endurance athletes.

One day while listening to Ben’s podcast he interviewed Mark Sisson about a new book he had written called Primal Endurance.

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I had heard of Mark before, as he is pretty much a legend in the Paleo community.  However as I listened to his interview with Ben, I realized this book was something that could help me not only train better for my upcoming Spartan Trifecta but also hone in my Paleo diet so I could fuel myself properly for the training and the event itself.  I quickly purchased the book and started reading.

Get To The Point Already

The goal of Primal Endurance is to teach you how to train smarter for endurance events in the most healthy way possible.  Mark and Brad (Mark’s co-author) explain in the book how traditional approaches to training and eating for endurance events are really not healthy.  Traditionally, endurance atheletes fall into a “cronic cardio” approach to training and fuel their body with carbs and sugars.  Both of these things can wreak havoc on your body as is explained in detail in the book.  Instead Mark and Brad suggest you take a much smarter approach to training and follow a high fat low carb Paleo diet for your training.  Finding myself already eating Paleo and feeling like I was already experiencing cronic cardio training I decided to follow the suggestions in the book to train for my upcoming Spartan Trifecta.

This blog is going to serve as a way of documenting what I do and how I train by following the Primal Endurance suggestions and hopefully help others doing the same along the way.

The Results Of My 7 Day Carb Test

First let me say if you have not read Wired To Eat, I suggest you go buy it now! It is a great book. While it is not targeted towards active people like the ones in this group, the concepts and theories Robb discusses are very insightful.

I will lead off with the results of my tests. Note while the amount of each carb source is different, each one was equivalent to 50g of effective carbs (total carbs – fiber).

Day 1:
260g of boiled sweet potato (not cooled)
Morning Glucose Reading: 88
1hr Mark: 70
2hr Mark: 74

Day 2:
250g of ripe bananas
Morning Glucose Reading: 80
1hr Mark: 74
2hr Mark: 95

Day 3:
335g of black beans
Morning Glucose Reading: 82
1hr Mark: 83
2hr Mark: 82

Day 4:
180g white rice
Morning Glucose Reading: 89
1hr Mark: 89
2hr Mark: 104

Day 5:
300g Grapes
Morning Glucose Reading: 94
1hr Mark: 94
2hr Mark: 90

Day 6:
390g Apple Sauce
Morning Glucose Reading: 93
1hr Mark: 82
2hr Mark: 80

Day 7:
690g butternut Squash
Morning Glucose Reading: 93
1hr Mark: 79
2hr Mark: 78

Bonus Day 8:
485g gluten free oats
Morning Glucose Reading: 84
1hr Mark: 101
2hr Mark: 111

Robb says in the book that if your glucose reading 2 hr after eating the food is above 115 than you should retest the next day with half the amount. If it is still above 115 than that carb is likely not good for you. If its less than you probably just need to be careful consuming that food. I didn’t find one carb that ever spiked my glucose that high. In fact some carbs appear to lower my reading which I am curious about and don’t have a good answer for. I included the Oats on day 8 because that is a food I never eat and since nothing else appeared to be spiking my glucose I wanted to try something out of the ordinary for me. It had the worst response, but still not bad.

I followed the testing protocol that Robb outlined in the book. I would wake up and immediately eat my test carb source with no other food besides water. This is not the way I normally operate by any means. First, I rarely eat carbs in the morning unless I am going to do a hard workout in the AM, and I never come close to eating 50g. Second I usually don’t eat breakfast until 9AM (i like to get in a 14-15hr fast). So this is certainly a departure from what I am used to. But it makes sense because you want to keep everything pretty much the same for each test. If you try to do it later in the day there are too many variables that get introduced that could effect the results from day to day.

A couple of observations I made throughout the process….

Eating 50g of carbs of one food is generally hard to do. Rice would be the easiest to overeat. Every morning I was surprised about how much I had to eat to hit 50g of carbs.

It is hard to consume 50g of carbs from whole foods. Because whole foods are nutrient dense and are low in carbs compared to other processed foods you need to eat a lot of them, it fills you up, and is in most cases, is pretty bland by itself. In my experience black beans were the worst. By themselves they are bland, and they have a ton of fiber in them so the effective carb count per serving is pretty low. Fruit is probably the easiest to eat because it is generally sweet. However even eating 50g of bananas was a little much IMO.

I didn’t notice the typical “crash” at any point, and that is probably due to the fact my glucose never spiked either. Some foods I noticed I was mildly hungry at the 2 hr mark but not “hangry.” My mood was generally good with all my test carbs and I felt like I had a lot of energy. I didn’t experience any digestion issues either. I did notice I was burping quite a bit after eating black beans but it wasn’t anything upsetting.

Overall I am glad I spent the 8 days doing this. It showed me that I can tolerate carbs pretty well, which I kind of suspected already. It also gave me a good gauge on what 50g of carbs looks like so it is easier to eat intuitively. I was surprised on how much you need to eat to get there. I think we (Primal folks) are so carb conscious that we loose sight about how much you really need to eat to get to that 50g mark, this was a nice reset for me. It also made me respect how whole foods by themselves are hard to overeat. Even in the Paleo/Primal world we would rarely eat a carb source by itself. We like to put fats on our carbs which make them taste better and therefore easier to eat. Take that fat away and the food is pretty bland.

I think I am going to continue to incorporate these carbs in my diet (except for the oats) to find the optimal amount for me based on my activity level and how I feel. I know Keto is all the rage but I am seeing the need for carbs in my diet the more and more I experiment.

It Has Been A While

I haven’t written a post in a while.  This has been because of a variety of reasons.  Mostly because life got in the way.  I moved, got a new job, and of course have work and a family, so discussing my love of OCR and nutrition just fell to the wayside.  A lot has happened since my last post.

Lets get to the point, I accomplished my goal of completing the Spartan Trifecta topping that off with finishing the Killington Beast in September of 2016.  I then completed the Fenway Park Sprint an hour faster than my time the previous year.  Overall I achieved what I set out to do, but it came at a cost, and that cost was my health.

Around the time of the Killington Beast last year I came to the realization that something was just not right with me.  My sleep was terrible.  No matter how tired I was I would wake up in the middle of the night and could not fall back to sleep.  This combined with getting up early everyday to train was taking a toll on me.  I also noticed my sex drive had tanked.  I was not recovering from my workouts well.  I would go and workout and come home exhausted not able to get off the couch.  I would have extreme cravings for all kinds of bad carbs, and occationally give into them.  All of this was taking a toll on me and my family.

When I went for my yearly physical in early November 2016 I talked to my primary care doctor about my symptoms.  He was completely dismissive of them.  The only thing he was concerned about was my testosterone.  So he drew some blood and measured my testosterone and it came back “fine” according to him.

I knew something was not right and I was determined to find out how to fix it.  I had heard this guy Chris Kelly on the Endurance Planet podcast talking about his company Nourish Balance Thrive.  As I listened to the podcast I heard him talking about many of the symptoms I was experiencing and how Nourish Balance Thrive is helping athletes solve many of these symptoms.  After reading more on the Nourish Balance Thrive website, blog, and listening to their podcast I decided I would reach out to them and setup a free consultation.

I talked to Amelia Lauker, a registered nurse that works with Chris, and after 15 minutes I was completely blown away.  Amelia had talked about me about my symptoms and had a number of tests she wanted to run to get to the bottom of my symptoms.  It was going to cost me some money but I was willing to pay if it meant finding out what was wrong.

The testing was comprehensive, blood work, urine tests, and stool tests, looking at everything from blood markers to hormones, to toxins in my blood.  Was it worth it?  Hell yes it was the results blew my mind and confirmed what I had been feeling and revealed much more.  In my future posts I will talk more about the results and the steps I have to been taken to recover.  Bottom line, if you know something is not right get help and get to the bottom of it ASAP.  The longer you wait the worse it will be.

My Aerobic Base Training

As you make the transition from a carb fueled endurance athelete to one that burns fat, it is important that you perform 8-12 weeks of aerobic base building.  The purpose of this training period is to transition your body from preferring glucose as its primary fuel to preferring fat.  This training, in combination with removing sugar, grains, and refined oils from your diet, will make you a fat burning beast in no time!

The only rule during this training period is that you stay at or below your aerobic threshold during your training.  As you progress through your aerobic base building period you can perform what is called a MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) test to measure how your aerobic system is progressing.  A MAF test requires you to complete a fixed course at a fixed heart rate (your maximum aerobic heart rate which is 180 – your age) and obtain a finish time.  This can be as simple as running 8 laps around a track at your maximum aerobic heart rate.  Ideally you do this every couple weeks, say every two weeks, and you should see improved times after each test.  This indicates your aerobic efficiency is improving.  If you don’t see improved times, than something is wrong.  Either you are not keeping your heart rate low enough during your training, your diet is off, or you could be injured.

Aerobic Training For Obstacle Course Racing

As someone who is training for an obstacle course race you might be wondering what kind of training you should do during this period?  I had the very same question.  I searched and searched for answers from other obstacle course racers that were perhaps following the same training plan but came up empty handed.  This left me with doing a lot of experimentation myself.  At this point I am more than half way through my aerobic base building period and have fallen into a pretty good set of exercises that I rotate through over the course of several weeks.

Running

The first and obvious one is running.  Obviously obstacle course racers need to be able to run, so this is important.  I run various distances without a real pattern, I base the distance based on how I feel.  I do try to do a “long run” once every other week.  The other type of running I try to include is some trail running.  Pay special attention to your heart rate while trail running as I noticed my heart rate went up quicker than when I was running on the road.  I suppose that makes sense, but unless you have payed attention to your hear rate before this might surprise you.  The other type of running I do is hill intervals on the treadmill.  I have been setting the treadmill at and incline of 7.5% and then run for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes I remove the incline and walk for 6 minutes.  I do this anywhere from 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs.  As far as how fast you “run” up the incline, that will depend on your heart rate.  I choose whatever speed keeps me below my maximum aerobic threshold (this fluctuates throughout the workout).

Stair Master

Besides running, my other favorite aerobic workout is the stair master.  I throw on my weighted vest with 35 lbs in it and hit the stair master for an hour.  To keep things interesting I play with the pace a little bit.  I will gradually increase the pace after every 15 minutes until I finally approach my maximum aerobic threshold at which point I may decrease it or keep it steady (for as long as I can at least).

Other Exercises

I also enjoy doing the rower at the gym.  I think this gives me a good upper body workout.  Sometimes (if the weather is nice) I will head out for a short hike (approx 3 miles) with my weighted vest on.  Finally once a week I try to fit in a yoga session.  Even though you may not be pushing yourself too hard it is still important to treat your body right.  Doing yoga and/or using a foam roller can really help.  Lastly, I will also occasionally ride the stationary bike and do the elliptical, although these are my least favorite aerobic activities.

Making It Interresting

Of course aerobic training can be quite mundane sometimes.  Sitting on the rowing machine rowing for an hour plus isn’t the most exciting thing in the world.  I try to add as much variety as I can to my aerobic workouts to keep them interesting.  For example, sometimes I will do an aerobic circuit where I run for 15 minutes, row for 15 minutes, and do the stair climber for 15 minutes.  I will do that circuit a few times and that keeps things a bit more interesting.

Another approach I take to keeping my aerobic exercises interesting is incorporating the primal movements and some burpees into them.  For example, I may do 15 minutes on the rower, jump off, and do some pull ups, body weight squats, or 15-20 burpees.  Then jump back on the rower and do another 15 minutes.  I will do this circuit for an hour plus.

Now I know Mark and Brad discourage strength training during your aerobic base building period because strength training is considered and anaerobic workout.

Aerobic Base Period: Train at strictly aerobic heart rates for a minimum of eight weeks to begin your annual season. While there is some difference of opinion on the matter, we favor Dr. Phil Maffetone’s admonition to complete a strict base-building period of aerobic activity only. That means taking a break from any kind of strength training (which is anaerobic by nature), Sunday night adult pickup basketball, and any other activities requiring anaerobic efforts.

I don’t think Brad and Mark wouldn’t consider doing the primal movements or 15-20 burpees “strength training”, unless of course it is a struggle for you to do these movements.  I am assuming you have enough strength to perform the primal movements with ease, if that is not that case than you want to be careful.  Think of performing these during your aerobic base building period as a way of maintaining your strength during your base building period.  In fact Mark and Brad mention this in the chapter on Strength Training in the book.

The first one, the Primal Essential Movements, is a simple concept that entails lifting heavy things (Primal Blueprint law number four), even for just a couple of minutes at a time, on a regular basis in daily life. You can really ramp things up with formal thirty-minute workouts during your intensity-training phases, but you can still put in a baseline level of general everyday strength efforts when you are base building or even during your off season.

As obstacle course racers we need to pay special attention to our stength as it is a key piece to completing the obstacles during our endurance event.  So while we may be building our aerobic systems during the aerobic base building period we don’t want to do it at the expense of the stength gains we have made.

I hope this helps you get an idea of some exercises you can do during your base building period.  I would love to hear what you might be doing during your base building period, so leave some comments below!

Could you need more fat in your diet?

Being an athlete who fuels your body on fat you might be questioning whether you are actually getting enough fat or not.  I know I have certainly questioned that at points myself.  Ultimately the answer to that question is something that is very personal.  There is no right answer that will work for everyone.  However, there are some things you can look for that might indicate you need to be eating more fat.  Check out Mark Sission’s blog post 9 Signs You Need to Eat More Fat.

Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/9-signs-you-need-to-eat-more-fat/#ixzz46Ngqya4n

Carbs! Too Little or Too Much?

Primal Endurance puts a huge emphasis on the amount of carbs you take in.  As the book states the amount of carbs is dependent on your goal.  If you goal is fat loss than you will have different carb intake requirements than someone who wants to maintain their current body composition.  Regardless of what your goal is you need to make sure you feel right.  If you start to eat low carb and your performance decreases or your energy suffers than you might be to low carb.  It is important to remember that everyone’s body is different.  Some people might perform fine with a certain level of carbs but someone else with the same goals might not.  In this article Chris Kresser explains that you might be lower carb than you might think.  It is worth reading if you are just starting out on your low carb journey.

Must Listen Podcast For Primal Endurance Athletes

If you are following the guidelines in the Primal Endurance book than you are hopefully eating a low carb high fat diet.  Whether you are just getting started with your diet or are in the middle of your transition to being a fat burning beast, it is always good to hear success stories from people who have already made the transition and are putting it to use.  Able James, AKA Fat Burning Man, recently published a podcast where he interviews Tawnee Prazak, host of Endurance Planet, and successful endurance athlete.  During the podcast Able and Tawnee talk extensively about becoming fat adapted and how it has helped her become successful in her endurance events.  You can listen to the PodCast on YouTube below, view it on iTunes, or download it.