Thursday, 15 September 2016

Sugar or fat? Which one should be low and what is best for longdistance running?

Low sugar or low fat diet? A question that's been debated since the 50s.

A question I've wondered about for a few years now. 

Let me start by saying, I'm not a nutritionist, physiologist or anything of that type. Just an overweight runner who wants to get healthier and quicker over long distances. And these views are my own based on books and articles I've read.

A few years back I started to be intrigued by carbohydrates (carbs), and that there are many different carbs, some good, some bad. I've been overweight since my early twenties and until 6 years ago I lived a relatively sedate lifestyle. Until Cancer. 

Thanks to a friend, I got back into long distance running, and was inspired by the hit American tv program The Biggest Loser, to lose the excess weight.

Through running and calorie counting I lost two and a half stone. But then kind of plateaued. I then read about refined sugars, flours, pastas and rice. I made the conscious decision to swap them to the unrefined variety. But I was also convinced that refined sugar was a modern day poison and we are all addicted to it. This didn't stop me eating sweats, drinking high sugar products or reducing my sugar intake anymore. 

However, recently I read a book by Christopher McDougall (Born to Run) called Natural Born Heroes. The book is predominatly the story of the people of Crete during the Second World War and some British soldiers who were helping the people of Crete create sabotage against the German occupying forces and the abduction of a German general. The book follows the plan and its execution and how these men were able to negotiate the very tough mountainous Cretan terrain on a minimal diet, yet not only evade capture, but to still move quickly with a hostage. 

In part of the book, Christopher talks about the Maffetone method, and Dr Phillip Maffetones belief that to live a healthy and fit lifestyle, we need to reduce sugars, and many carbs, and in fact have a fattier diet. Even Professor Tim Noakes, the running "guru", now believes a high fat diet is better then a low fat high sugar diet. 

Now there is a lot more to it then I'm actually writing, but the main basis of the idea is to cut down sugars and carbs and replace with good fats. Basically, sugar is bad, fats are good. I know what you are thinking, I've gone totally against the grain here. It's not what we've been taught. Believe me, I'm not 100% convinced, but I'm 90%! 

As I read more, I'm becoming more convinced. Of course, you could argue, in reading books that naturally sway that way. Doesn't make it wrong.

If you are still intrigued, please get Chris' book, it's brilliant and intriguing. 

What I propose to do is become my own science experiment. In fact I've already started, along with my beautiful partner Suze. 

We have both made the conscious decision to cut down our sugar and carb intakes. However, after I've run my final marathon of the year in November, I'm going to do the Maffetone two week test.

I'm going to completely cut out certain things recommended by the method. Predominatly sugars. There'll be no fruit, no milk, no cereals. I'll be able to eat meats, veg (but not potatoes), nuts, cream & eggs. There are probably a few other bits. There will be no calorie counting. If I feel hungry (not bored) I can eat. My diet will consist of pretty much no sugar and very few carbs. Instead it will be good fats and proteins. 

The idea? To make my body not want for sugar and become a lean, mean, fat burning machine. 

It's not just what I consume that changes. Training will radically change. Maffetone has come up with a simple formula for training by heart rate. Again this goes against the grain and especially "no pain, no gain" mantra. All training runs need not push your heart rate above this formula. 180 minus your age. So basically, I will be running to a peak heart rate of 141bpm. The reason, as you go above this, your body will look for fast carbs - sugar. 

Christopher McDougall warns in his book that you may not feel the best to start with as your body looks for sugars. It's easier to break them down then fats. Another reason I've found out is, we all start our anaerobic system when we start to workout. As long as the effort isn't high (it won't be due to heart rate) the body will then switch to the aerobic system for endurance. This is because of the lack of oxygen supply to the aerobic system.

The anaerobic system requires sugars and carbs not fat. I won't have sugar so it'll feel a little tough. 

What I hope to do is continuing blogging through me experiment which in a way I've started. 

Here's how I started. 

Sunday (11th sept) was my long run day. The evenings before long run day and actual marathons I would have pizza. I don't know why, but it worked for me. However, pizza is full of carbs and sugars. I didn't want that. So, long run dinner got replaced. I had fillet steak, a chicken breast, cauliflower cheese! Sweet potato fries and a salad. Suze made the cheese sauce and it was pretty calorific! But I wasn't to concerned. It was bloody delicious!!

Sunday mornings brekkie wasn't the classic porridge, but a satisfying bacon and eggs. Let's get the fat burning going. 

Due to Suze and I having a puppy we decided to stagger our long runs. Suze heading out an hour before me. During this time I started to get a headache. 
Now, Suze and I had discussed this before and we both felt that the little headache above your left eye was your body asking for sugar. I can't confirm that but we both felt that's what it was, and previously we would have reached for a sugary snack. This time, I fought the urge, so much so I didn't even have my pre run banana.

I set off to run 17 miles and the headache was pretty bad. Every step seemed to make it throb. I wasn't sure how this run would go. I wanted to run at pace plus 60 seconds. So an average of 10min/miles for me. 17 miles with an anticipated 1300ft if elevation! No flat runs in the Lake District! 

As I ran, throb throb throb, I thought about the situation and my belief of my body wanting sugar. Was it looking for sugar to convert to energy? I then thought about when fat burning kicks in when exercising and the belief that it starts after half an hour of exercising with an elevated heart rate. So my theory, keep running for half an hour, get to fat burning, headache should go? 

Half an hour in, it was still there! Bugger. Should I bin this off or keep going? Well I'm stubborn and I wanted my theory to work. I pushed on. Maybe because I was running a slow long run pace it would take longer? The next time I thought about it I was an hour into my run, and guess what? No headache! And I was feeling comfortable in my run. Despite it being warm (I'm pants in the heat) and some elevation already done. 

The next test, will I fade? How far in? I normally fade in a long run. I know I had a few miles of steady uphill coming. I got nervous. Could I sustain the effort required for the uphill? 

As I approached the start of the hill, which was approx 10 miles in now, I though to myself, 30 minutes time it'll be done! Stick with it. I started the uphill and got a real boost early on as I ran past two cyclists riding up the hill! Go me!

As I hit the main A66 (where the crawler lane is!) I got into a nice rhythm. I felt my body temp increase a little. But not surprising. Then something surprising did happen. I felt really good. I mean like I had fitted fresh legs. I flew up the hill. It was like a second wind. My legs felt good. As I crested the hill my legs didn't feel sluggish like they normally would on such a prolonged hill climb. I was starting to believe (and somewhat proud of myself). I pushed on up a shorter hill heading towards the last big climb before a lovely decent back into the valley. 

Sadly, that sluggish feeling returned going up Berrier hill. The last big climb. I slowed my pace right down but admit I had to walk. Well fast hike. Was this the diet? Or just the distance and elevation? I don't know. But I wasn't disheartened. As I reached the top, I marvelled in what is a stunning view. The northern fells looking amazing in the sunshine! I pushed on and opened up a bit going down the hill and into the valley. 

There was one final hill at the end. Cardiac hill. However I had already decided early into the run that I wouldn't attempt to run it. It's 20% incline. It's nearly a third of a mile. Why run to an eventual shuffle? Why not attack at a fast hike? 

Cresting cardiac hill I felt amazing. As per many of you. I dread long run day. But it felt amazing, I felt amazing! 17 miles 1398ft of elevation and I averaged 10.08min/mile pace! Ran on fats and proteins and little carb and sugars! The headache went. I took no supplements on the road. Not even water. I achieved what I wanted from the run. And the best thing. I didn't feel like I had ran 17 miles. 

As I came into the garden I was buzzing. So was Suze. She had also had an awesome run on the same route and felt good. 

Is there really something in all this? 

I honestly believe so. 

Now, writing this on the following Thursday, after a 4 mile recovery run at lowish heart rate followed by an awesome 11mile at pace run, I still feel good. I haven't reached for snacks. I haven't had a "sugar headache", I'm losing some of that excess weight and I feel strong.

I'm going to continue with this experiment and I shall continue to blog about it.

I plan to write a liitle post soon on what I have changed in my diet and how I'm feeling after training and eating. Such as that craving for a mid afternoon snack. You know the one!

Will I become that lean, mean, fat burning machine? 

To be continued...