Monday, October 1, 2012

And so it begins...

My journey has begun!  Not only am I training my body to be able to run 100 miles in 3.5 months but more importantly, I have begun my completely revamped daily nutrition plan.  Revamped, in fact, is quite the understatement!

But first, let me describe my reasoning for this journey/experiment.  I have been described quite often as the salmon swimming upstream.  I always question the "why" of conventional wisdom in an effort to better understand mechanisms but more importantly, how I can be a better sport dietitian, coach and athlete.  This has worked in my favor as the concepts of Nutrition Periodization and Metabolic Efficiency were born out of not only my curiosity but also my desire to provide better and more useful information to athletes.

It is no wonder that I use myself as a guinea pig and this is by far the craziest of experiments I have done on myself.  I mean, I have trained my body for a 40 mile run in 4 weeks, have done an Ironman on 8 weeks of run training after breaking my foot and walked the last half of my first Leadville 100 due to a tibial stress fracture.  Sometimes, my judgement is not the best but this time around, I am eager and extremely excited to determine how this new experiment affects many aspects of my health and performance.

I have followed a mostly vegetarian (by mostly I mean I have included dairy and eggs) for about the past 10 years.  I am asked "why?" quite a bit about that and I must say that my response is based more on how my body felt.  It felt good, or at least what I thought was good.  However, after 2 days of my experiment, I am already redefining what my "good" really is.

Get ready for this and grab a seat because if you know me, you will need to be sitting down...I am disembarking from my vegetarian lifestyle for 3-4 months as I prepare my body as an ultra-runner again.  Yep.  Full on meat products.  I'm talking chicken, fish, beef, turkey and sausage!  Back to my Italian roots and similar to how I grew up.  Why?  Well, very simply put, I am trying to improve my health (improved blood lipids) and performance (improved metabolic efficiency) and I will document my entire journey as I progress.

I have my baseline blood lipids and my metabolic efficiency results.  My metabolic efficiency has never been textbook (because many of the protein food sources I ate were ridden with carbohydrates) so I expect to see a robust change in my fat burning capacity (which suits ultra-running perfect!).  It will be interesting to see what my eating plan will do to my blood lipids because, well, I am following a low carbohydrate, high fat diet.  Yes, I said it!

Here's the plan:

  • Week 1-2: eat less than 100 grams of carbohydrate per day, 25-35 grams of protein per meal and as much fat as I can
  • Week 3-4: same plan but eat less than 75 grams of carbohydrate per day
  • Week 5 and beyond: same as above but eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day
  • No starches at all (nada, grains, wheat, etc.)
  • Run 4-5 times per week (one sprint session, 1-2 very aerobic based on my metabolic efficiency results and the rest hitting the trails in the mountains)
I thought this would be extremely difficult but the first two days of implementation have been super easy aside from figuring out some meal ideas.  As you can imagine, not eating meat for years makes it challenging to construct meals and cook with meat.  Nonetheless, it is becoming easier.  But even better is the fact that even though I am restricting my carbohydrate intake to less than 100 grams per day, I have consumed 59 and 72 grams on day 1 and 2, respectively.  Much, much easier than I thought it would be!

Here's a snapshot of my daily nutrition for those who are interested:

Day 1, 59 grams of carbohydrate:
  • Smoothie with water, heavy cream, chia seeds, kale, spinach, carrots, bananas, olive oil, peanut butter, whey protein powder, chocolate Generation UCAN plus 1 fried egg (fried in butter)
  • 1 egg white
    • 8 mile run
  • 2 scoops chocolate whey protein powder (3 grams of carbohydrate per scoop) with heavy whipping cream
  • 1 nectarine
  • 2 string cheeses
  • 1 ounce turkey
  • 1/2 ounce cheese
  • 1/2 cucumber with 3 ounces cheese and 3 ounces turkey
  • 1 ounce cashews
  • 1 piece romaine lettuce with 6 ounces of tuna with mustard and mayo, 2 ounces of cheddar cheese and 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 10 black olives
Day 2, 72 grams of carbohydrate:
  • Same smoothie as Day 1 plus one egg white
  • 1 scoop of Lifetime Fitness FastFuel with water and heavy whipping cream consumed before and after swim practice
    • 1'15" masters swim
  • 1 nectarine
  • 8 slices cucumber with 3 ounces of cheese and turkey with mayo on each slice
  • 10 black olives
  • 2 ounces cashews and almonds
  • 2 slices cheese
    • 15 mile bike ride with Teens that TRI
  • 1 Italian sausage, 3/4 cup mashed cauliflower, 3 celery sticks with cream cheese, 1 ounce cheese, 3 ounces tuna with mustard and mayo

There you have it.  I'm a bit surprised at how little food I am eating and more importantly, how satiated I am.  To be expected from a scientific point of view but feeling it is true validation.

My biggest challenge so far is finding enough fat.  I know it sounds strange but I'm working on it.  I spent more than an hour in the grocery store this weekend searching for full fat products.  Harder than it seems.

My energy level is extremely consistent.  I am able to train on very minimal carbohydrates (I normally consumed a minimum of 200+ grams per day).  My mood is consistent and good and I will say that I actually enjoy eating meat once again.

This is going to be a truly epic journey.  Stay tuned for my next blog post.  They will be much more frequent so I can share my progress as it is happening.

Coach Bob


  1. Hi Bob, I met you in Vegas last year at the USA Triathlon coaching certification course. I found your lecture on nutrition very interesting since I follow a high fat, low carb diet and you seemed to lean that way in the information you conveyed to us. In fact you told us if we were hungry soon after lunch, we didn't consume enough protein. I found your talk very interesting because most sports nutritionists and dietitians appear to advocate the high carb, low fat diet. So I am very interested to see how your experiment all plays out.

  2. Very interesting. Does your metabolic efficiency results show your fat/carb burn ratio at various run paces? If so, do you mind sharing the ratios?

    My boyfriend had a FUEL test done in June and 3 months later (after following the plan in your book) retested. He improved his fat burn rate by 19%. He's normal pre-long run meal is: Cheese, zucchini, avocado egg omelet, fruit, sweet potato latkes, Ezekiel toast with almond butter. Nutrition stats: 847 calories - Carbs 31%, Fat 52%, Protein 17%.

    I'll be following your progress as this subject fascinates me.

  3. I'm curious as to why this approach is better for ultra running vs. short course triathlon. It is because you go longer and slower so therefore need to rely more on your fat burning ability? How does this relate to marathon or ironman training? I'm surprised that you wouldn't experience a period of adjustment...low energy, etc. from dropping out grains and starches. Why do you think you haven't had that?

  4. Hi Bob!

    I'm thrilled to follow your journey with this 90+ day experiment. There's a few questions I have that you may not comment on in the blog setting (may be more interesting as a book!)

    Are you working with Jeff Volek & Steve Phinney at all or following their "Art & Science of Low Carb Performance" book?

    Will you be monitoring blood glucose and/or blood ketones at all?

    What sort of mileage or training load undulations will you be able to fit in such a short timeframe?

    How often will you be assessing your MEP or fuel utilization profiles?

    We're excited to watch you tackle this as you tour around and enlighten Life Time's professionals! Happy Trails!

  5. Hi Bob,

    This adventure sounds very interesting and exciting. I can imagine that shopping for food is worse than the most complicated scavenger hunt. Look forward to seeing you in SD and following your personal experiment.

    Coach Todd

  6. Hi Bob!

    "Very interesting" seems to be the phrase of the day. Like Michael, your nutrition lecture at the USAT SLC clinic captured my interest. I've since tried to move to an eating pattern that was more plant based without a lot of grains, etc... but haven't been all that satisfied and have found myself seriously craving "bad" items. Sometimes these cravings are so strong. I'll ask myself, "self, are you hungry?" The answer is always, "no" and then I end up eating it anyway. Perhaps my protein and fat intake has been too low. You've motivated me to start writing down macros and see if that helps. I will be eagerly looking forward to your follow-up blog posts on your new experiment and like some of the other posters above, would be grateful if you could be as candid as possible with your training, food intake and timing. Regards!