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!

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.

Carbs, Fats, and Aerobic Training

When you first dive into Primal Endurance, you quickly realize that Mark and Brad REQUIRE that you start your race season with an 8-12 week aerobic base building period.  What does this mean and why do this?  First lets start off with the why?

The traditional thought behind training for an endurance event revolves around three main components.  First is logging the right amount of miles.  The thought being the more miles you log the better prepared you are going to be for your endurance event.  In order to have the energy needed to log these huge numbers of miles each week you need to fuel your body.  This brings us to the second component, how you fuel your body.  Again, traditionally this means eating a large number of carbs.  Everything from sugary drinks, cereals, pastas, breads, gels, energy bars, etc.  Just Google how to fuel your body for an endurance event you will likely find a number of suggestions on how to shove as many carbs in your body as possible.  Finally we need some advice as to what workouts to do, and how many miles to run, so we traditionally turn to a training plan to guide us on our journey to finishing our endurance event.

So what is the problem with this approach?  There are a number detailed in the book, but here are the ones that suck out to me.

Lets start out with the typical endurance athletes diet, because everything builds from what you put in your body.

Fueling your body with carbs causes your body to store excess body fat.  When you eat carbs the body transforms them into glucose, but since your body doesn’t need the glucose after you are done with your workout your body stores the glucose as fat for later.  The problem with this is that your body wants to fuel itself with glucose and not fat so the glucose it stored as fat never gets used.  This is why even though you are training hard you may still be carrying around extra fat on your body.  Mark and Brad provide some pretty amazing facts to back this up.  For example…

First of all, we’re not making this stuff up. Dr. Timothy Noakes, long considered the world’s pre-eminent endurance exercise physiologist and whom you’ll read about frequently in this book, cites a study showing that a full 30 percent of the participants in the Cape Town Marathon were classified as overweight or obese. That’s the same overweight/ obese percentage as the world’s population as whole, as reported in the 2013 Global Burden of Disease Study.

Sisson, Mark; Kearns, Brad (2016-01-04). Primal Endurance: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast! (Kindle Locations 429-432). Primal Nutrition, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

In addition, burning carbs is kind of like burning coal.  Burning coal for energy produces a ton of pollutants.  When your body burns carbs it releases free radicals into the body, kind of like the pollutants released when burning coal.  These free radicals wreak havoc on the body causing oxidative damage and accelerating aging.

The final problem with fueling with carbs is that your body has a very limited supply of glucose available for use at any given time.

We are only able to store four to five hundred grams, or sixteen hundred to two thousand calories (highly trained athletes can teach their bodies to store a bit more than the average person) of glycogen in our liver and muscle tissue, and there’s only around five grams of glucose in our bloodstream at any given time.

Sisson, Mark; Kearns, Brad (2016-01-04). Primal Endurance: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast! (Kindle Locations 2496-2498). Primal Nutrition, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Once you run out of glucose to burn, you bonk.  This is why endurance athletes that fuel their body with carbs need to refuel with carbs during a race, they essentially run out of fuel if they don’t.

What are the solutions to these problems?  In the book Mark and Brad propose the solution is to fuel your body with fat.  This involves changing a couple of things.  First you need the fat to burn.  However we don’t want to get that fat from carbs because we don’t want to provide the body with the carbs to burn.  Instead we just want to eat more healthy fats while at the same time limiting the carbs we take in.  Mark and Brad suggest you take in anywhere from 50-150 grams of carbs a day.  If you want to have optimal fat loss you should try to stay below 100 grams of carbs a day.  In addition the carbs you take in should be high quality carbs.  Things like fruits, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, and quinoa are all good sources of high quality carbs.

Carb_Curve_x

The rest of your diet should be composed of meat, fish, foul, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables.  So in summary you want to decrease your carb intake, while at the same time increasing your healthy fat intake.  Everything else should be vegetables, meat, fish, foul, and eggs.food_pyramid_flat_2011sm-1

Next we need to train the body to burn fat instead of glucose.  To do this we need to change the way we are training so we are training at a level where the body prefers fat as fuel over glucose.  This level is different for everyone and it seems to depend on your age.  Luckily there is a formula you can use to give you your fat burning heart rate zone.  That formula was designed by Dr. Phil Mafetone and is extremely easy.  Simply subtract your age from 180 and that is the point at which your body will switch from burning primarily fat to burning glucose.  For example, I am 31 years old so my max heat rate would be 149.  If you stay at or below this heart rate during your training your body will burn more fat than glucose.  By keeping our training at this level we can reprogram our bodies to burn more fat than carbs.  This type of training is called aerobic training.

To most endurance athletes training at or below this heart rate will feel incredibly slow and hard to do, as in hard to stay below.  Mark and Brad stress that you MUST stay below this aerobic threshold or else your body will continue to prefer glucose over fat.

So how long does it take to train your body to prefer fat over glucose?  Mark and Brad suggest you take 8-12 weeks to train at or below your aerobic threshold.  During these 8-12 weeks you should NOT DO ANY anaerobic training.  This includes training above your aerobic heart rate, and any kind of strenuous strength training.

If you do your 8-12 weeks of aerobic training AND switch your diet to include more fat and less carbs your body will begin to prefer to burn fat over glucose and will no longer require you to consume as many carbs as before.  This will help you loose fat and have a more ideal body composition, reduce the release of free radicals into your body, and allow you to race longer without the need to refuel during the race.

You may think that training at this low heart rate and slow pace will somehow hinder your endurance goals.  It is actually the opposite.  By training at this level you will become more aerobically efficient.  This will allow you to continue to become faster even though your heart rate remains the same.  How will this help you during your endurance event?

When you are performing in an endurance event, which heart rate system do you think you use the most, anaerobic or aerobic?  The answer is aerobic, you would not be able to finish such long endurance events if you were using your anaerobic system.  So if you are becoming more aerobically efficient and you are primarily using your aerobic system durning a race than you are going to become faster overall during the race!

This all sounds good, but how does it apply if you are an obstacle course racer?  We will take a look at that in the next blog post!