Strategically Adding In Some Carbs As Training Volume Increases

After some very tough runs during the last three days of last week, I had my most carbohydrate-heavy meal in three months on Saturday night. Based on how I felt, both during the run, right after and the day after, it seemed to have helped tremendously. Here’s what I did, and here’s my speculation on what was happening last weekend as I ground slower, and slower, and slower…

The Menu

I added one-cup homemade butternut squash puree (28g net carbs) with heavy cream to my dinner menu of steak and salad. Two big strawberries and some sharp cheddar for dessert. Oh, man, it was delicious and decadent.

To put that meal in perspective, I’ve been less than 30 grams carbs a day for more than three months, and those have mainly all been from leafy green and cruciferous vegetables. So more than 30 in a meal was big leap, but I felt like I needed it.

Why Add Carbs?

Here’s why: now that I’m past my injury-recovery and pushing hard to get up to a decent training mileage again in the limited time I have between now and Boston, I’ve found the second half of my running weeks to be grueling slogs, sort of like what it felt like to run carb-deprived back before I was eating ketogenically.

The first runs of the week, after a rest day, have felt amazing, even on my ultra-low carb diet. This includes speed and tempo sessions. I can push hard and plow through them no problem. (Well, except for the fact that I’m de-trained by all that time rehabbing my knee). So I’m thinking, right on, I’m fat adapted!

But by then end of a week on Sunday’s long run, I’m dragging and the run is just grueling. This wasn’t an issue before I got back up over 40 miles a week, but after that I started feeling the effects. Didn’t matter how much fat I fueled with or how much sleep I got. I was just sucked dry.

I’m speculating that the first few workouts of the week, speed and recovery sessions, drain the glycogen from the muscle and then with no rest days between then and Sunday’s long run, I’m simply not building enough glycogen back up staying in heavy ketosis to handle any kind of hard effort in the long run.

That’s why I wanted to experiment with post-run carb boosts.  But what I didn’t want to do was lose the amazing constant energy levels I felt living on ketones during my “regular” non-running life. So this experiment is all about striking a balance.

What Happened?

My results during and after Sunday’s 16 miler seemed to bear out my glycogen theory. A 28g net carb cup of delicious butternut squash puree with dinner the night before the run and a cup of leftover delicious squash puree with lunch immediately after the run left me feeling fine. Plenty of energy for the run, and even more importantly, I felt awesome and steadily energized for the rest of the day, like I normally do simply being low-carb, in ketosis. And no day-after long run fatigue.

Conclusion

Very low carb, even ketogenic state, may be a natural way for humans to exist. And maybe not all humans, but I know I sure feel good that way, naturally. But endurance training is not natural. Especially when you are pushing hard paces for high mileage day after day after day. And so, while I’m still playing around with approaches, I think supplementing extra carbohydrate during intense training and performance, may be something I can’t do without, at least at this point.

More Reading: Zach Bitter

Tonight, still in the happy glow of this seemingly successful experiment, I came across a recent blog post by Zach Bitter, and amazing fat-adapted ultra runner. (He’s got 2:31 marathon finishes and a 5:12 50-mile finish to his credit. Wow.) This post details how he fuels before, during and after a hard workout. Not the pasta dinner or pancake breakfast a high-carb athlete might use, but he definitely takes carbs; a lot more than I’ve been allowing myself. I’m going to take a hint.

Midweek Update – Recipe #2

After Tuesday night’s 9-miler with 6×800@10k-pace interval workout  I had a 10 p.m.  smoothie of heavy cream, coconut milk, chia seed, mixed berries and a tablespoon of raw honey. The next morning, I was still in trace ketosis and feeling great, and by the evening I was back in medium ketosis and preparing to run again.

Addendum: Carb Backloading?
Driving out to a customer meeting on the Seacoast early one morning  I listened to this podcast Abel James talking to John Kiefer about carb backloading while on an otherwise low-carb diet.  Veeeeery interesting, and dovetails a bit with what I’m talking about above. Anybody have any experience with this?

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